SLOVAKIA: Tier 1
The Slovak Republic, or Slovakia, is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Slovak men and women are subjected to forced labor in agriculture and construction in Western Europe, primarily in the United Kingdom (UK). Most victims are Slovak women, who are subjected to sex trafficking in Germany, Austria, the UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Poland, and other European countries. Ukrainian, Moldovan, Bulgarian, Romanian, Thai, and Vietnamese men and women are subjected to forced labor in Slovakia. Eastern European women are also reportedly transported to and through Slovakia and forced into prostitution within the country and throughout Europe. Roma from marginalized communities are disproportionately vulnerable to trafficking. Slovak children of Romani descent are subjected to sex trafficking within marginalized communities in the Slovak Republic and forced criminal behavior in the UK. Slovak men, women, and children of Romani descent are subjected to forced begging throughout Western Europe. Children without family or relevant support structures who leave institutional care facilities are subjected to sex and labor trafficking.
The Government of the Slovak Republic fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government increased investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of traffickers; however, courts issued low and suspended sentences for most convicted traffickers, which were incommensurate with the seriousness of the crime and failed to deter trafficking offenses or protect victims. The government increased funding for victim services, but identified fewer victims than in the previous reporting period. The government continued to struggle to identify foreign trafficking victims, with NGOs reporting that the government did not identify potential victims among migrants because they did not adequately screen them and encouraged them to take advantage of assisted voluntary return. Legal support to victims was inadequate, and victims who cooperated with prosecution were at risk of re-traumatization. The government supported some innovative prevention activities, but NGOs continued to report challenges with effective participation in the expert working group.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SLOVAKIA:
Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, and sentence those convicted to jail terms; strengthen training and capacity building for investigators, prosecutors, and judges on a victim-centered approach to law enforcement efforts; establish sentencing guidelines that sensitize judges to the severity of trafficking crimes and instruct them on the need for sentences to have a deterrent effect for future crimes; establish formal written procedures for victim referral; improve legal assistance to victims; train government officials, particularly border police, on proactive victim identification among vulnerable groups; facilitate better consultation with NGOs in the expert working group; amend the law to formally prohibit the prosecution of trafficking victims for offenses committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; improve data gathering on Slovak victims of trafficking abroad; and support an effective and independent national anti-trafficking rapporteur to produce assessments of government anti-trafficking efforts.
The government maintained efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers, but short and suspended sentences remained a serious weakness in its anti-trafficking efforts. There is no comprehensive anti-trafficking law; section 179 of the criminal code prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties between four and 25 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, officials initiated 18 new investigations and prosecutions of 22 defendants, compared with 15 investigations and 18 defendants in 2014. These included eight cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation, eight for sexual exploitation combined with forced marriage; 18 for forced begging; and 12 for forced labor; victims were in some cases subjected to multiple forms of exploitation. Authorities prosecuted 17 defendants under article 179 of the criminal code in 2015, including nine plea bargains, compared with 18 in 2014. Courts convicted 21 traffickers during the reporting period, compared with 19 in 2014, 14 of whom were convicted under paragraph 179 of the criminal code. Of these 14 convictions, one sentence resulted in a prison sentence of 16 months. The 13 remaining convictions resulted in suspended prison sentences; eight traffickers received suspended sentences of three years’ imprisonment and five received suspended sentences of two years’ imprisonment. Seven traffickers were convicted under paragraph 246 of the former criminal code for sex trafficking offenses committed before 2005; of these, five traffickers received sentences of three years’ imprisonment and two traffickers received suspended sentences of two years’ imprisonment.
The Irregular Migration Unit within the Bureau of Border and Alien Police (BBAP) coordinated law enforcement efforts. NGOs commended the head of the trafficking unit within BBAP for promptly and proactively investigating suspected trafficking and for facilitating improved referral of cases to specialized police officers. Experts believed law enforcement in some cases placed too much emphasis on victim testimony and made insufficient attempts to secure other types of evidence. The Irregular Migration Unit continued to be involved in a joint investigation team with UK police that resulted in the conviction of six traffickers in UK courts, with sentences ranging from 11 months to four years. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. The interior ministry provided the first trafficking training for judges and prosecutors at the Judicial Academy, but no NGOs received details on the training content.
The government demonstrated mixed efforts to protect trafficking victims. In 2015, the government identified 25 victims and NGOs identified three additional trafficking victims, a decrease from the 41 victims identified by the government and civil society in 2014. Of these 28, 21 victims of trafficking and four victims of trafficking and forced marriage entered the government-funded victim care program in 2015, compared with 34 in 2014. In 2015, the government allocated 307,927 euros ($350,700) for the protection of trafficking victims, an increase from 225,100 euros ($256,400) in 2014. Of this amount, the government provided 212,927 euros ($242,500) to three NGOs to provide victim services, including repatriation assistance, in comparison with 145,661 euros ($165,900) allocated in 2014. The government did not have a unified system to refer identified victims to protection services, but some government institutions had procedures to refer victims to the National Coordinator or care facilities. NGOs have criticized the government’s victim care program for placing too high a burden of proof on the victim and allowing too much discretion by law enforcement, which decides whether a potential victim can enroll in the program. A trial court ruled that the government’s decision not to enroll a suspected victim into the victim care program required justification, indicating the government’s process to recognize victims and enroll them in its victim care program included unnecessary barriers. The case remains pending on appeal. NGOs provided victims shelter and care services, including financial support, repatriation to Slovakia, healthcare, and psycho-social support. Shelters for domestic violence victims accommodated trafficking victims, but housed them separately. Child trafficking victims could be accommodated in government-run children’s homes or an NGO-run crisis home for children; no children entered into the care program in 2015. NGOs noted that Slovak police may lack the capacity to effectively supervise victims during investigations, particularly Romani victims in marginalized communities, who often return to the same environments in which they were subject to trafficking. NGOs deemed the legal advice available to victims insufficient; at least two victims received legal assistance from an NGO during the reporting period.
The Slovak Embassy in London did not report potential Slovak victims in 2015, compared with 151 in 2014. An international organization reported a potential Slovak minor victim of trafficking and forced marriage had been identified in Ireland, and three other Slovak minor victims of sex trafficking destined for Austria, Czech Republic, and Switzerland were identified. These victims either declined to enter the government’s victim care program or ceased cooperation with the international organization that provides repatriation assistance, so these numbers were not reflected in the government’s official statistics, suggesting a need for the government to improve its tracking of Slovak victims abroad. One foreign victim, who was not subjected to trafficking in Slovakia, was entered into the government’s victim care program. The government continued to struggle to identify foreign trafficking victims, with NGOs reporting that it did not properly identify potential victims among migrants or refer them to services because it encouraged them to take advantage of assisted voluntary return. Border police did not always proactively screen migrants for indicators of trafficking, despite having received numerous victim identification trainings. Foreign victims were eligible for up to 180 days of tolerated residency and care support. Slovak law allows foreign victims to seek employment, but other obstacles, such as the length of stay, could prevent them from actually securing employment while participating in an investigation. The tolerated limited-term residency status issued to foreign victims entered into the victim care program may place some victims with existing residency status at a disadvantage. In some circumstances, tolerated residency may be a more limiting form of residency, thus causing some victims to decline enrollment in the program. Limited funding for legal representation impaired foreign victims’ ability to justify their cases for temporary residency. The law authorizes the extension of permanent residency to foreign trafficking victims who faced hardship or retribution if returned to their country of origin; however, authorities have issued no such residence permits. Court proceedings were not always sufficiently adapted nor law enforcement professionals sufficiently trained to avoid re-victimization, thus discouraging victims from participating in trafficking investigations. Victims provided testimony multiple times and in close proximity to suspected traffickers during the pre-trial and trial process. The government did not report penalizing victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, although Slovak law does not formally prohibit the prosecution of trafficking victims. Judges did not award damages in the majority of criminal and civil cases, and victims lacked legal support to pursue damage claims. The government did not report cases of victims being awarded compensation.
The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking. A national program to fight trafficking, covering 2015-2018, continued to guide all government anti-trafficking efforts. The interior ministry’s crime prevention office coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking activities, including overseeing victim care services, training officials on victim identification, conducting awareness campaigns, and convening the expert working group, consisting of government and NGO representatives. Some NGOs continued to report challenges with collaboration and transparency in the expert working group. The crime prevention office housed an information center to collect statistics on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, but it had difficulty reconciling data across institutions and did not conduct critical assessments. The government supported training activities for social field workers who work with marginalized communities. In March 2015, the government launched a public awareness campaign that utilized a fake job webpage to advertise lucrative employment offers, reaching 750,000 Slovak-language Facebook users with a prevention message, and during the reporting period launched a website that allows the family of Slovaks traveling abroad for employment to receive alerts should the user cease usual online activity. The government also sponsored a theatre performance that reached 1,300 high school students and an interactive conference for high school students that involved role play with various trafficking situations; financially supported a trafficking-themed film festival organized by NGOs; and funded a second information center in Eastern Slovakia that provides information on the dangers of trafficking for Slovaks traveling abroad for employment purposes. The government continued to support an anti-trafficking hotline operated by an NGO, which received over 200 substantive calls and helped identify and refer one victim to services. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Approximately 500 military personnel eligible to serve in peacekeeping missions abroad received anti-trafficking training. One Slovak soldier was accused of sexual abuse or exploitation while serving as a UN peacekeeper; investigations by UN and Slovak military police, as well as local police, led to no charges being filed. In coordination with an international organization, the government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.