ESTONIA (Tier 1)
The Government of Estonia fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Estonia remained on Tier 1. These efforts included ordering convicted traffickers to pay restitution and approving a four-year violence prevention agreement, which included several anti-trafficking activities. In addition, the government participated in a European study aimed at exploring the national practices of detecting, identifying, and protecting potential foreign trafficking victims through national policy and legislative developments. Furthermore, in response to the influx of Ukrainian refugees and foreign nationals fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine and arriving in Estonia, the government developed materials raising awareness about sex and labor trafficking and outlining the steps to report suspected trafficking and receive victim support services. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers under the anti-trafficking provision, specifically Section 133, of the penal code and continued to prosecute and convict traffickers under non-trafficking statutes, which weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. According to the government, there was no available exact figure for the total number of labor trafficking cases investigated; therefore the government estimated the number, rendering the data unreliable. Moreover, data for victim identification and assistance did not accurately reflect the trafficking situation in country. Finally, officials ceased funding an NGO for victim support services.
Proactively investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under the anti-trafficking provision, specifically Section 133, of the penal code. * Develop and implement a reliable comprehensive statistical system for collecting and collating data on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and victim identification and assistance and ensure the data reported is accurate, official, and comparable to previous years. * Ensure adequate financial support for victim support services, including funding NGOs for victim assistance. * Train relevant authorities to recognize trafficking indicators and understand different types of trafficking. * Increase efforts to proactively identify potential child trafficking victims. * Establish a specialized unit within the police to collect and verify information on trafficking-related crimes and allocate funding for investigations. * Broaden public awareness efforts to educate at-risk communities, such as children and migrant workers, on the risks of trafficking.
The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Sections 133, 133¹, and 175 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Section 133 (trafficking in human beings) criminalized placing a person in a situation of exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion and prescribed penalties of between one and seven years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim, and three to 15 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. Section 133¹ (support to human trafficking) separately criminalized the transportation, delivery, escorting, acceptance, concealment, or accommodation of an individual into a situation of exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion and prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim, and between two and 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. Section 175 (human trafficking in order to take advantage of minors) criminalized inducing a child to engage in a criminal offense, begging, prostitution, or the production of pornography without requiring a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion and prescribed penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment. Authorities most often used Section 175 to prosecute child pornography cases involving no element of commercial sex. The penalties under Sections 133, 133¹ and 175 were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government included calls from the anti-trafficking hotline with any presumed element of trafficking as investigations in their 2021 data totals, before police determined the circumstances of the crime; these cases included potential crimes under Sections 133, 133¹ and 175. During the reporting period, the government began direct data collection that resulted in new categories for collecting statistics, intended to more accurately report on and inform national anti-trafficking efforts. Prior to 2021, government data regarding Section 175 did not differentiate between cases exclusively related to trafficking or cases related to other crimes, such as child pornography, which Estonian law classified as a trafficking crime, making it difficult to compare data on investigations from previous years. Moreover, according to the government, there was no exact figure available for the total number of labor trafficking cases investigated; therefore, the government estimated the number, rendering the data unreliable. In 2021, police investigated approximately 78 cases (28 sex trafficking, approximately 50 labor trafficking), compared with 35 in 2020. Of the 28 sex trafficking cases investigated, authorities found no evidence of trafficking and, therefore, pursued either child pornography or “pimping” charges. Of the approximately 50 labor trafficking cases reported, authorities confirmed one as trafficking and forwarded the case to the prosecutor’s office. Under Section 133, authorities prosecuted and convicted two traffickers, a significant decrease from prosecuting 15 cases, involving 10 suspected traffickers, and convicting 14 traffickers in 2020. Courts sentenced the two convicted traffickers to three years’ imprisonment and four years and one month’s imprisonment, respectively, and ordered them to pay restitution to their victims. Data on prosecutions and convictions under Section 175 was not comparable to previous years. Authorities continued to prosecute and convict traffickers under non-trafficking statutes, thus weakening deterrence, not adequately reflecting the nature of the crime, and undercutting broader efforts to fight trafficking. Under non-trafficking statutes, authorities prosecuted one trafficker and convicted two traffickers for forced criminality in which a 16-year-old girl was forced to steal. Separately, while prosecutors charged a man with child sex trafficking for exploiting children in commercial sex, courts convicted him of child pornography. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking crimes. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) noted difficulty prosecuting international labor trafficking cases, citing cases involving Estonian companies hiring Ukrainian or Polish temporary workers as particularly complex. As part of a regional project to enhance law enforcement cooperation and training on trafficking, Estonian, Finnish, and Latvian authorities collaborated to strengthen capacity to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, disrupt the financial gains of traffickers, and help victims access justice.
Overextension of personnel remained the government’s primary constraint, limiting specialization and knowledge of trafficking. Nationally, approximately 10 specialized investigators and four specialized prosecutors worked on trafficking cases. There was no dedicated unit within the police responsible for investigating trafficking cases; specialized investigators were part of the Drug and Organized Crime Division within each prefecture. As a result, no separate budget line item existed for trafficking investigation efforts. Police expressed the need to establish a centralized unit that would collect and verify information on trafficking-related crimes and allocate funding for investigation efforts. Observers agreed a dedicated unit could yield successes and added it could improve the quality of cases presented to prosecutors and prioritize trafficking cases. Experts reported the need for increased training for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and front-line personnel on understanding different forms of exploitation and identifying trafficking victims. In 2021, the MOJ and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) organized a two-day seminar for police, prosecutors, labor and custom inspectors, and victim support personnel on psychological first aid and trauma awareness; victims’ support services; prosecuting trafficking crimes under the trafficking statute; and projected changes to the Victim Support Act, including creating qualification requirements for victim support personnel and updating conditions determining who receives victim support services. The police included a trafficking module, covering national and international law, forms of exploitation, and protecting victims, as part of the curriculum for future officers.
The government marginally maintained protection efforts. Data for 2021 victim identification included calls to the anti-trafficking hotline that, during initial screening, the government presumed to have some element, however slight, of force, fraud, or coercion and, in turn, considered as potential trafficking victims. In previous years, the government did not report potential trafficking victims who were involved in cases that were initially investigated but ultimately determined non-trafficking. This methodological change in reporting made it difficult to compare data from previous years and raised concerns the data reported did not provide an accurate picture of the trafficking situation. In 2021, authorities identified 417 potential victims (28 sex trafficking, 389 labor trafficking), compared with 34 in 2020. Police referred all 28 identified potential sex trafficking victims to support services under the assumption that they might be trafficking victims and simultaneously conducted investigations to determine the circumstances of the crimes. Upon further investigation, police determined none of the 28 were trafficking victims. Of the 389 identified potential labor trafficking victims, authorities identified only one as a labor trafficking victim, but all 389 received government services, including assistance from the Social Insurance Board (SIB) and Labor Inspectorate (LI) to help file civil claims against employers. The vast majority of the identified potential victims were males and foreign nationals; authorities did not identify any child trafficking victims. The Police and Border Guard utilized a questionnaire and checklist to identify trafficking indicators among asylum-seekers. The government reported authorities actively screened vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators and increased resources to help screen Ukrainian refugees who were fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine and arriving in Estonia. Authorities considered individuals in commercial sex as potential victims until proven otherwise through an investigation.
The government provided identification and referral guidelines, outlining all relevant authorities’ and actors’ responsibilities. The Victim Support Act and the penal code allowed multiple actors, including NGOs, to identify victims and refer them to the SIB, the agency responsible for victim support services. In 2021, the government allocated €350,656 ($397,570) toward victim support services. The government utilized an information and data sharing system to expedite the exchange of information from the police to social services, ensuring potential victims received immediate assistance. Under the Victim Support Act, victims received comprehensive, government-funded, trafficking-specific services, such as counseling, accommodation, and psychological, medical, and legal assistance, without first requiring victims’ cooperation with police or the commencement of criminal proceedings. Victims who cooperated with law enforcement received services for an unrestricted period, while victims who did not participate in criminal proceedings could receive government-funded services for up to 60 days. In previous years, an NGO served as the contracted partner for victim support services. In May 2021, the government ceased contracting the NGO and moved the responsibility to the SIB’s Trafficking Victim Support Unit. Observers criticized the move, raising concerns that the change would lower the quality of victim services. While initially the government released a public tender for providers, there were no bidders because, according to observers, the funding ceiling in the contract was too low to meet the minimum standard for victim services – €15,000 ($17,010), compared with €62,000 ($70,290) in previous years. Authorities placed child trafficking victims and unaccompanied children in three dedicated centers for child victims of abuse, including trafficking, offering specialized services for up to 60 days. Local government funding covered services beyond 60 days. The government based the three centers on the Barnahus method – a multidisciplinary and interagency model offering a coordinated and effective response based specifically on a child victim’s needs. Officials noted the need to increase procedural capacity regarding child sex trafficking victims, and experts reported the need to improve the identification of child trafficking victims, particularly as identification had declined over the years. The Aliens Act enabled foreign victims to receive temporary residence permits, accommodation, and education; the government did not grant any temporary residence permits to foreign victims, the same as in 2020. The government disseminated NGO-developed guidance on assisting trafficking victims with disabilities. The MOJ provided €50,000 ($56,690) in funding for legal aid for victims with low incomes and people with special needs, such as psychological or physical impairments. The law allowed victims to obtain restitution from traffickers in criminal cases and file civil suits against traffickers for compensation. In the two 2021 convictions, courts ordered traffickers to pay victims’ restitution in the amount of €21,790 ($24,710).
The government increased prevention efforts. The MOJ maintained responsibility as the national trafficking coordinator, monitored implementation of anti-trafficking policies and plans, and led domestic and international cooperation. During the reporting period, the government approved the 2021-2025 Violence Prevention Agreement, which focused on combating various forms of violence and included several anti-trafficking activities, such as legislative changes, training, and awareness programs. The government started developing an annual action plan for 2022, detailing resources for implementation of the activities in the Violence Prevention Agreement, as well as additional anti-trafficking programs. In 2021, the government proposed significant budget cuts across all areas of government spending, which observers raised concerns would affect anti-trafficking programs and law enforcement efforts. The anti-trafficking working group, comprising 35 government agencies and NGOs, published an annual report of its activities. As a member of the European Migration Network, Estonia participated in a study aimed at exploring the national practices of detecting, identifying, and protecting potential foreign trafficking victims. The study consisted of national policy and legislative developments and measures to detect, identify, and protect third-country nationals; challenges and best practices; and cooperation mechanisms with other Member States, EU agencies, international organizations, and third countries of origin. In collaboration with other Baltic Sea Region countries, the government participated in a project establishing long-term cooperation between stakeholders and academia to educate future journalists on trafficking issues through workshops, panel discussions, and competitions. The government managed an anti-trafficking hotline, which received 505 calls from potential trafficking victims, of which authorities began investigations into 28 sex trafficking cases and 389 labor trafficking cases; the hotline provided counseling and services in Estonian, Russian, and English. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by creating a program aimed to change the behavior of sex buyers through social measures.
In 2021, the government participated in a new regional project aimed at strengthening the knowledge of and approach to trafficking, particularly in an international context. The project advanced the work of the online trafficking identification tool for labor inspectors that launched in 2020 by coordinating training and enhancing cooperation among Finnish, Estonian, and Latvian authorities. Also, in 2021, the government conducted an awareness-raising event consisting of two live streams on social media for entrepreneurs, informing them of the dangers of trafficking and free services offered by the state. The SIB maintained a podcast, in Estonian and Russian languages, with a new topic focusing on labor exploitation, including trafficking, and services. Several agencies organized a four-day seminar to educate employers on the use of migrant labor, work authorization requirements, and trafficking prevention. Estonian law prevented the misuse of employment regulations and ensured enterprises paid taxes and migrant workers the average monthly salary required by the law. Additionally, the law prohibited recruitment agencies from charging fees to job seekers for placement services and required the LI to monitor agencies for compliance. The LI provided migrant or local workers with free legal services regarding work-related problems, such as unpaid salary, and maintained an informational phone line and website on workers’ rights. In 2021, the LI created a new portal available in Estonian, English, and Russian with information on labor trafficking. In an effort to decrease the number of undocumented foreign workers, reduce cases of delayed or under payment, and improve occupational safety and health, the government continued to establish a new electronic registration system for construction site employees to provide insight into subcontracting relationships and working hours; projected implementation is in 2023.
In response to the influx of Ukrainian refugees and foreign nationals who were fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine and arriving in Estonia, the government developed information resources in Ukrainian, Russian, and Estonian advising on safe travel, rights to temporary protective status, finding legitimate work, and available benefits. The police, LI, and SIB developed printed and online materials raising awareness about sex and labor trafficking and outlined the steps to report suspected trafficking and receive support services. Additionally, the MOJ developed a new training program for government and private sector officials on recognizing indicators of trafficking; the program targeted government contractors providing temporary housing and job placement services to refugees and volunteers working with vulnerable communities.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Estonia, and, to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Estonia abroad. Traffickers tend to recruit and exploit their victims, including children with promises of money or video games, via the internet and social media. Authorities report a rise in the number of traffickers from foreign countries who recruit victims online. Trafficking victims originate from Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. In general, women and children are mainly at risk of sex trafficking and men of labor trafficking. The majority of trafficking cases in Estonia are labor trafficking cases that involve male foreign nationals. Migrant workers, most of whom are Ukrainian and Polish, are vulnerable to labor exploitation within Estonia, particularly in the construction and manufacturing sectors. A common scheme involves an Estonian company subcontracting with a Ukrainian or Polish company to provide temporary workers; the Estonian company pays salaries, sometimes below market rate, to the foreign company, which withholds the money from the workers. Citizens of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh arrive in Estonia to work in the food sector where they are vulnerable to exploitation by their fellow countrymen. Citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova are at risk of labor trafficking in the cleaning sector. The government reports an increase in the number of individuals from Central Asia who come to Estonia for employment and are forced to pay high recruitment fees to recruiters who are typically from the same country as the victims and have ties to organized crime. Officials noted foreign “posted workers,” hired by temporary agencies and placed in Estonian companies, and their family members are especially vulnerable to trafficking. Thousands of foreign nationals and Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children, who are fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine and seeking sanctuary, are highly vulnerable to trafficking.