Croatia is a destination, source, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to conditions of sex trafficking and forced labor. Croatian women and girls fall victim to sex trafficking within the country and throughout Europe. Women and girls from the United States, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other parts of Eastern Europe are subjected to sex trafficking in Croatia. Women and men reportedly are subjected to forced labor in agricultural sectors. Children are exploited in prostitution on the Adriatic Coast, particularly during the peak tourist season. The Council of Europe’s GRETA Report and the European Commission concluded that the extent of trafficking in Croatia could be considerably higher than that identified by the government.
The Government of Croatia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. While the government has a formally adequate anti-trafficking structure, its efforts to implement that structure stagnated over the last year. The government sustained funding for victim protection and continued to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases and the National Committee for the Suppression of Trafficking met for the first time in approximately two years. Nevertheless, the government identified very few trafficking victims, despite clear trends that human trafficking is increasing. The European Commission, in its Monitoring Report on Croatia’s accession preparations, concluded that the government’s sentencing for trafficking offenses was too low to deter criminals from human trafficking and noted that the government urgently needed to take concrete and proactive measures to fight the crime, including by ensuring that the relevant officials were aware of human trafficking.
Recommendations for Croatia: Strengthen trafficking victim identification by establishing and implementing new screening procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including the rapidly growing number of asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, Roma population, and children in prostitution; ensure that all children in prostitution with third-party involvement are identified as trafficking victims; consider establishing a more inclusive procedure for the official designation of trafficking victim status in a trafficking case by better integrating civil society actors or representatives of other agencies into the formal victim certification process; designate a lead official responsible for trafficking in persons inside the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth; train social workers employed by or coordinating with the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth in identifying trafficking victims and the proper referral of victims to care; regularly convene the government’s National Committee for the Suppression of Trafficking; establish a national rapporteur to carry out assessments of trends in trafficking in human beings, reporting, and the measuring of results of governmental anti-trafficking initiatives; ensure that identified trafficking victims are not punished for committing unlawful acts as a direct result of being trafficked; adopt a policy and articulate that policy through prosecutorial guidance, ordinances, or manuals, to ensure that children in prostitution are not prosecuted for prostitution offenses; ensure that training of law enforcement officials, including non-specialist law enforcement officials, includes the principle of non-prosecution of trafficking victims, including children in prostitution; strengthen partnerships with NGOs to enlist their help in identifying victims during authorities’ initial contact with potential victims among women and children detained for prostitution offenses; vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders; ensure that trafficking offenders are punished with sentences commensurate with the gravity of the crime committed; increase anti-trafficking prevention efforts.
The Government of Croatia demonstrated mixed anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period; the European Commission concluded that the government’s sentencing for trafficking convictions was inadequate. Croatia prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons through two newly-revised laws: Slavery, Article 105; and Trafficking in Persons, Article 106, which prescribe penalties of one to 10 years’ imprisonment for sex or labor trafficking and up to 15 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of a child. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and are commensurate with those prescribed for rape. During the year, the government investigated 30 trafficking suspects, in contrast to 37 in 2011, and prosecuted nine defendants in 2012, in contrast to 14 prosecuted in 2011. In the three cases prosecuted in 2012, seven defendants were charged in the same international sex trafficking case under a transnational prostitution statute rather than under a trafficking statute despite clear evidence that the female victims were forced or coerced into prostitution, including by physical means. The other two cases involved sex and labor trafficking within Croatia. Experts noted that trafficking offenders were frequently charged for less serious offenses under non-trafficking articles, such as those for pimping. The government convicted eight trafficking offenders, six under the international prostitution statute and two under the trafficking statute; in 2010, they convicted seven. The traffickers were sentenced to prison terms between nine months’ imprisonment and 10 years’ imprisonment, a slight increase from 2011, when the convicted traffickers received terms of imprisonment between one month and nine years’ imprisonment.
The European Commission, in a monitoring report for Croatia’s EU accession, noted that Croatia’s sentencing for trafficking crimes remains lower than the sentencing for other organized crimes, was not dissuasive enough compared with the gravity of the crime, and urged increased training for judges, prosecutors, and civil servants on the identification of trafficking victims and investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases. The Government of Croatia sponsored a variety of anti-trafficking trainings for law enforcement during the reporting period. For example, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the Office of Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities conducted a train-the-trainer session for 81 police officers in May 2012; subsequent sessions from this training reached over 1,000 police officers. In October, Croatian authorities organized an anti-trafficking seminar designed to strengthen the Croatian judicial system’s response to trafficking cases; several high-level officials attended the conference, including two Supreme Court justices, four Municipal court justices, and a number of municipal and county state attorneys. Croatian law enforcement officials collaborated with Spanish and Romanian counterparts to investigate and prosecute transnational trafficking cases. The Government of Croatia did not report any investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during this reporting period.
The Croatian government sustained its victim protection efforts, but failed to screen vulnerable populations effectively for trafficking victims. The government funded two NGO-run trafficking shelters, one for adults and one for women and children. The government also provided three reception centers to provide victims with care before they could be transported to the shelters. Adult victims were allowed to leave shelters at will and without chaperones. The Croatian government provided the equivalent of approximately $70,000 to fund the shelters in 2012, level with the amount it provided for shelter care in 2011. Foreign victims were offered the same standard of care as domestic victims, including shelter, medical care, education, legal assistance, psychological care, and assistance finding employment. The government’s Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities provided the equivalent of approximately $47, 900 for victim assistance, professional training, and the anti-trafficking hotline. The Ministry of Interior spent an estimated equivalent of approximately $870,000 on victim assistance, investigations, and travel. Despite this funding, there were reports that actual assistance provided by the Croatian government to reintegrate trafficking victims back into society was inadequate due to a lack of available financial assets for sustained adult education. During the reporting period, the government identified 13 victims of trafficking, nine of whom were female sex trafficking victims and four were male labor trafficking victims. In 2011, the government identified 11 victims. Although the Croatian government did not automatically identify children in prostitution as trafficking victims, the government improved by identifying three children in prostitution as trafficking victims during the reporting period. Government-funded NGOs offered care to seven of these victims during the reporting period. Experts and government officials reported victim identification was inadequate in light of the suspected magnitude of the trafficking problem in Croatia. Although the number of migrants in Croatia has soared to the highest level in recent years, and many in this vulnerable migrant population are likely trafficking victims, there was no reported screening of any of these migrants for indicators of trafficking. Furthermore, experts reported that women in prostitution who have been subjected to coercion, including physical violence, were not always identified as trafficking victims. The government continued employing a national referral mechanism to mobilize care for victims, once they have been preliminarily identified by MOI officials; mobile teams with NGO participation were dispatched to assess and place trafficking victims for assistance. Observers reported that restricting the responsibility of provisional victim identification to MOI personnel impaired the government’s overall victim identification efforts. The Croatian government has designated a social worker in each of Croatia’s 21 counties to assist trafficking victims once identified. There were reports, however, that the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth had insufficiently trained or given direction to its social workers to enable them to care effectively for trafficking victims. The Croatian government offered a “reflection period” to suspected victims of trafficking for 60 days for adults, and 90 days for children. The government provided legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims of trafficking to countries where they faced hardship or retribution through its temporary residency permits for victims—initially valid from six months to one year, and subject to extension by the government based on a subsequent needs assessment. The Government of Croatia encouraged victims to assist in the prosecution of trafficking offenders by providing victims with free legal aid; during the reporting period, six trafficking victims testified in trafficking cases. There were no reports of trafficking victims being punished for unlawful acts committed as part of their trafficking experience.
The Croatian government continued efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the year. The Croatian government coordinated anti-trafficking activities through a number of mechanisms: a national coordinator housed in the Office for Human Rights; a cabinet-level National Committee; and an Operational Team composed of government officials and NGO representatives. The government’s National Committee for the Suppression of Trafficking met for the first time in nearly two years in December 2012, although the Operational Team to Suppress Trafficking met monthly. The government continued to broadcast three anti-trafficking public service announcements on television. The government coordinated awareness-raising events around the annual EU Anti-Trafficking Day, including information booths, leaflets, and live anti-trafficking performances. To address demand for commercial sex acts, the Croatian government adopted a new law punishing the clients of prostitution. The Croatian government did not establish a national rapporteur to monitor its activities and make recommendations for progress. The European Commission concluded that the Government of Croatia urgently needed to take pro-active and concrete measures to address trafficking in human beings and raise awareness amongst the national authorities on this form of crime, including by launching an independent evaluation of the policy. The Croatian government provided anti-trafficking training to members of the Croatian armed forces prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.