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; therefore Estonia remained on Tier 1. These efforts included implementing labor act amendments prohibiting recruitment agencies from charging worker-paid recruitment fees, developing new identification and referral guidelines, and ordering restitution payments from traffickers to victims. The anti-trafficking working group, comprising 35 government agencies and NGOs, published an annual report of its activities, and the government established a national victim support hotline for all victims of violent crime, including trafficking, while providing funding to a separate NGO-run hotline. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities investigated and prosecuted fewer trafficking cases and courts convicted fewer traffickers. Additionally, authorities neither identified nor assisted any potential labor trafficking victims.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under Section 133 of the penal code. • Proactively identify potential labor trafficking victims, particularly among foreign workers, and refer them to government-sponsored assistance. • Encourage police and the labor inspectorate to investigate labor trafficking cases. • Expand efforts to train law enforcement, particularly on investigative tactics, victim psychology, and applying Section 133. • Implement new identification and referral guidelines and train officials on their responsibilities to identify and refer potential victims to assistance. • Provide specialized training for law enforcement, judicial, and civil service personnel on all forms of trafficking and working with victims. • Encourage more victims to assist prosecutions by facilitating access to effective legal counsel. • Broaden public awareness efforts to educate at-risk communities, such as migrants, on the risks of trafficking.

PROSECUTION

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 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. 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. Overextended government personnel continued to constrain productivity in 2018. Police investigated four new cases under Section 133, compared with 10 in 2017. Authorities prosecuted three cases (16 in 2017), and courts convicted 12 traffickers (14 in 2017). Prison sentences ranged from four years and three months to five years and four months. Under Section 175, authorities investigated 28 crimes (67 in 2017); prosecuted 30 cases (57 in 2017); and did not convict any traffickers for the second consecutive year. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.

Observers reported the need for increased training for new law enforcement, judicial, and civil service personnel working on trafficking issues. The Border Guard Board continued to provide general training for law enforcement officials; however, experts noted a need for more specific trainings on investigative tactics and victim psychology. Experts also noted defense lawyers and victims’ legal counsel were often not trained on trafficking law. The State Court organized training sessions on understanding trafficking and victim assistance options for 64 judges and court officials. The Ministry of Social Affairs and an NGO organized two training sessions for teachers on identifying and assisting potential victims.

PROTECTION

The government maintained protection efforts. The government developed new identification and referral guidelines, describing all relevant authorities’ responsibilities to assisting victims. In 2018, authorities identified 14 victims (12 in 2017), and 14 sex trafficking victims received government-sponsored assistance, the same as in 2017. Of the victims who received assistance, six were minors and seven were foreign nationals. The Victim Support Act and the penal code allowed multiple actors, including NGOs, to identify victims and refer them to the Social Insurance Board, permitting victims to receive comprehensive, government-funded, trafficking-specific services without first requiring the victim’s cooperation with police or the commencement of criminal proceedings. Victims who cooperated with law enforcement received services, such as accommodation, psychological, medical, and legal assistance, for an unrestricted time period while presumed victims who did not participate in criminal proceedings could receive government-funded services for up to 60 days. The law also guaranteed victims access to support and assistance when an authority of another country identified the victim and initiated criminal proceedings outside of Estonia. The Aliens Act enabled foreign victims to receive temporary residence permits, accommodation, and education; the government did not grant temporary residence permits to any foreign victims in 2018. Despite reports of an increased number of foreign victims of labor trafficking in Estonia, authorities did not identify any potential labor trafficking victims.

In 2018, the social board allocated €100,000 ($114,680) to an NGO providing support services to women in prostitution, some of whom may have been sex trafficking victims, compared with €99,500 ($114,110) in 2017. The social board also allocated €25,000 ($28,670) for trafficking victims’ support, such as shelters, compared with €33,960 ($38,940) in 2017. Authorities placed child trafficking victims and unaccompanied children in alternative care facilities, including a dedicated center for child victims of abuse, including sexual violence and trafficking. A witness protection law allowed trafficking victims to provide testimony anonymously, but authorities did not report whether this had ever been applied in a trafficking case or whether victims had ever served as witnesses in criminal trials. Courts ordered traffickers to pay €21,000 ($24,080) in restitution to five victims.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention efforts. The government continued to fund and implement its 2015-2020 plan for reducing violence, which included trafficking. The anti-trafficking working group, comprising 35 government agencies and NGOs, met regularly and published an annual report of its activities. The government participated in a multi-country project, establishing a comprehensive approach to the prevention and investigation of labor trafficking cases, particularly cases combining economic crime and illicit financial flows. Authorities organized a trafficking seminar for employees in the hospitality industry. Amendments to the labor act entered into force, prohibiting recruitment agencies from charging worker-paid recruitment fees. The interior ministry developed an action plan for preventing illegal employment of foreign workers in Estonia. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. In January 2019, the government started a 24-hour national victim support hotline for all victims of violent crime, including trafficking. The hotline complemented the existing NGO-operated anti-trafficking hotline, which received 433 calls from vulnerable individuals. The government allocated €38,000 ($43,580) to the NGO-operated hotline.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Estonia, and traffickers exploit victims from Estonia abroad. Estonian women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within Estonia and in other European countries. Experts report a rise in Estonian women, primarily young Russian-speaking women, recruited for sham marriages in Western Europe. After entering these marriages willingly, traffickers confiscate the women’s passports and force them into prostitution or labor. Traffickers subject Estonian women and men to conditions of forced labor within Estonia and elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the construction, cleaning, and social welfare sectors, as well as in seasonal jobs. Traffickers force Estonian children to commit crimes, such as theft. Reports indicate an increase in the number of foreign nationals, particularly men from Ukraine and Moldova, vulnerable to labor exploitation within Estonia, particularly in construction, agriculture, and forestry.

2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Estonia
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