MOLDOVA: Tier 2
Moldova is primarily a source country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Moldovan victims are subjected to sex and labor trafficking within Moldova and in Russia, Ukraine, and other countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia. Women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in Moldova in brothels, saunas, and massage parlors. Increasingly, girls aged 13 to 15 are victims of sex trafficking. Child sex tourists, including from the EU, Australia, Israel, Thailand, and the United States, subject Moldovan children to commercial sexual exploitation. The breakaway region of Transnistria remains a source for victims of both sex and labor trafficking. Official complicity in trafficking is a significant problem in Moldova.
The Government of Moldova does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Corruption, particularly in law enforcement and the judiciary, impeded prosecutions and influenced the outcomes of cases, including cases against complicit officials. The judiciary often imposed sentences on convicted traffickers that did not correspond with the severity of the crime, including fines alone, and at times reversed convictions on appeal. Legal and organizational obstacles, including changes in the national anti-trafficking investigative body, hampered law enforcement efforts. Authorities identified and assisted more victims, but victims continued to suffer from intimidation. Prosecutors charged some victims with crimes committed as a direct result of their trafficking.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MOLDOVA:
Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and impose sufficiently stringent sentences; increase efforts to convict government officials complicit in human trafficking; implement measures to address corruption in the judicial sector; exempt trafficking victims from the requirement of in-person confrontations with their accused traffickers before an investigation can begin; shield trafficking investigators and prosecutors from external influence and internal corruption; pass legal amendments to exempt victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; improve protection of victims and witnesses during court proceedings, including prosecutions for witness tampering and intimidation; amend the criminal procedure code to permit wiretapping of suspected traffickers without prior notification and investigation of suspected traffickers’ finances to avoid an overreliance on victim testimony as evidence; train police, judges, and prosecutors on a victim-centered approach to investigations prosecutions; facilitate compensation for damages suffered by victims; improve cooperation with non-governmental care providers, including coordination on policy development and assisting victims cooperating with investigations; and fund and maintain data for the hotline on child abuse and exploitation .
The government demonstrated mixed law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Articles 165 (trafficking in persons) and 206 (trafficking of children) of the criminal code prohibit all forms of trafficking and prescribe penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Corruption in the judicial system posed an acute challenge for bringing traffickers to justice. Courts have frequently reversed convictions on appeal, sometimes without any explanation or on weak grounds, although comprehensive statistics on the rate of appeal were not available. Criminal cases against public officials for complicity have rarely resulted in conviction, likely due to corruption and weaknesses in the judicial system; all such cases initiated in 2014 were dismissed or remain pending. Prosecutions against the head of a human rights agency for forcing children to beg in Russia and a bailiff for compelling two persons into prostitution remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. A 2014 trafficking conviction against a public official and his accomplices remained pending appeal. A court acquitted the former head of the Biathlon Federation of Moldova of child trafficking charges in 2014 and applied a 3,000 lei ($164) fine for organizing illegal migration; an appeal remained pending. A court still had not issued a verdict in a 2013 case against a police officer who allegedly accepted a bribe to convince his colleagues to close the investigation of a trafficking case. A case against the former head of the interior ministry’s division to combat organized crime for involvement in human trafficking remained ongoing. In January 2015, however, a court sentenced a police officer to seven years’ imprisonment for trafficking. There were allegations of corruption by officers assigned to the interior affairs ministry’s investigatory Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons (CCTIP).
Law enforcement efforts also faced institutional obstacles in 2015. CCTIP did not have a director for six months in 2015 following a delay in the appointment of a new director; the unit was again without a director at the close of the reporting period following this director’s transfer in early 2016. Cooperation between CCTIP and some civil society actors and international partners deteriorated in 2015 hampering the center’s ability to cement previous gains or improve their operations. Observers reported CCTIP switched its focus from complex cases of international sex and labor trafficking to simpler cases related to domestic prostitution, potentially in order to boost the center’s statistics. This focus on statistics moved CCTIP away from its traditional strength of victim-centered investigations. CCTIP continued to lack sufficient resources, particularly investigative staff, although the government assigned two additional prosecutors to CCTIP. Prosecutors’ heavy reliance on victims’ testimony hindered successful prosecutions and often resulted in acquittals; victim testimony is an unreliable foundation for prosecution as victims may decide not to testify in open court due to intimidation or be too traumatized to give consistent testimony. Investigators cannot legally wiretap trafficking suspects without notifying them they are under investigation. Starting in 2014, prosecutors began charging traffickers and defense attorneys with obstruction of justice when victims were threatened or intimidated. A February 2016 Constitutional Court decision limited the time suspects may be detained to 12 months. Because it often takes years before a final verdict is issued in trafficking cases, this ruling may allow suspected traffickers to be released before trials conclude, enabling them to flee the country, return to crime, or take retribution against witnesses. Beginning in 2015, the National Investigative Inspectorate (INI) required CCTIP to regularly inform the INI of the suspects in CCTIP’s investigations, to include subjects of search warrants before searches are executed, which increased the risk of corrupt officers warning suspects ahead of raids or intervening in ongoing investigations.
Authorities increased investigations in 2015, carrying out 189 trafficking cases, compared to 175 in 2014. The government increased prosecutions, completing 76 cases in 2015, compared to 49 in 2014. The government obtained fewer convictions in 2015, convicting 39 traffickers in 2015, compared to 43 in 2014. Of the 39 convicted traffickers, 36 were sentenced in 2015, and all received prison terms. The average jail sentence was 7.3 years for trafficking in persons and 16.3 years for trafficking of children. Moldovan authorities cooperated with foreign counterparts on multiple trafficking investigations. Mostly using donor funding, the government trained police, border guards, prosecutors, and judges in 2015. Candidates for judges and prosecutors were required to complete a 40-hour course on trafficking.
The government demonstrated mixed efforts in victim protection. The government identified 310 trafficking victims in 2015, compared with 264 in 2014. Of these identified victims, 68 were children, an increase from 26 in 2014. Inaction by some law enforcement officials reportedly led to some potential investigations not being pursued and potential victims being left undiscovered. The law requires adult trafficking victims confront their alleged traffickers in person at a police station to begin an investigation, and sometimes on multiple occasions over the course of an investigation and trial; this requirement likely deters victims from reporting crimes and can re-traumatize victims.
The government provided approximately 8.38 million lei ($446,000) to seven shelters for victims of crime and family violence, an increase from 7.26 million lei ($385,970) provided in 2014. One of these shelters, the Chisinau Assistance and Protection Center, specialized in receiving trafficking victims and individuals at high risk of trafficking; the government provided approximately 2.0 million lei ($106,000), a decrease from 2.9 million lei ($154,000) in 2014. The government allocated 600,000 lei ($31,914) for the repatriation of victims in 2015; the government did not disburse all of the funds, in part due to bureaucratic obstacles to accessing the funds. The government assisted 132 victims with public repatriation assistance or shelter care, compared with 85 in 2014. Teams of local officials and NGOs in all regions of Moldova coordinated victim identification and assistance; observers noted some teams were less effective in assisting identified victims. Through the Chisinau and regional centers, victims could receive shelter and medical, legal, and psychological assistance, regardless of their cooperation with law enforcement. Psychological assistance, legal aid, and long-term reintegration support were insufficient, however, and victims were unable to obtain the free medical insurance that is afforded under Moldovan law. The weak capacity of social workers in outlying regions led to inefficient and poor quality services offered to victims. These deficiencies contributed to the continued vulnerability of trafficking victims to being re-trafficked. Authorities placed child victims with relatives, in foster care, or in rehabilitation clinics that provided specialized medical and psychological care. Victims 14 years old or younger were interviewed in specialized hearing rooms with recording equipment with the assistance of a psychologist. Although shelters were designed for female victims, adult male victims were entitled to all forms of assistance. Care providers reported bureaucratic impediments to moving victims with severe mental health needs to state-run psychiatric institutions.
The government did not adequately protect victims participating in investigations and prosecutions. Shelters had little security and corruption undermined police protection. Prosecutors did not maintain regular contact with victims or adequately prepare them for trial. Some victims experienced intimidation in the courtroom and were pressured by traffickers to change their testimony. Victims had the right to sue traffickers for damages, but most did not due to threats from perpetrators, inability to present proof required by courts, and perceived corruption in the judiciary. There were no civil actions against traffickers in 2015, despite prosecutors freezing suspected traffickers’ assets in seven cases. While it is possible for a prosecutor to request restitution on behalf of the victims, such awards were rare. The criminal code exempts trafficking victims of criminal liability for committing offenses related to their exploitation. In 2015, there were cases of trafficking victims who acted as recruiters and were exempted from liability based on this provision. However, when authorities classified cases under related statutes, such as the article criminalizing forced labor, victims were no longer exempt from criminal liability. The government punished trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subject to trafficking. The courts finalized a conviction against a trafficking victim for theft, despite the victim being forced to commit the crime. Similarly, when authorities reclassify sex trafficking cases to pimping cases, victims were no longer exempted from punishment and could be charged with prostitution offenses. Victims can be fined or imprisoned for making false statements if they change their testimony, whether deliberately due to bribes or intimidation, or unintentionally due to the traumatization experienced; at least two victims were charged with making false statements in 2015. Observers reported some cases of authorities charging child sex trafficking victims with prostitution offenses, in violation of Moldovan and international law.
The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking. The national anti-trafficking committee (NCCTIP) and its secretariat coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking response. As prescribed in the national action plan for 2014-2016, NCCTIP implemented programs to raise awareness among students and Moldovan citizens abroad, as well as the general public through radio broadcasts, a website, and a national anti-trafficking week. In 2015, the government temporarily ceased state funding to the specialists running a hotline on child abuse and exploitation. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel on identifying trafficking victims. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.