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LATVIA: Tier 2

The Government of Latvia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Latvia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting and convicting more traffickers; issuing substantially stronger sentences, involving imprisonment, to convicted traffickers; amending regulations to allow persons from state care institutions, such as orphanages, to enroll in the state assistance program; and identifying significantly more foreign workers exploited in domestic labor trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Officials struggled to identify child trafficking victims, even though children in state orphanages remained vulnerable to sex trafficking. Many judges and prosecutors lacked a sufficient understanding of all forms of trafficking and applying anti-trafficking laws.

Proactively identify trafficking victims, particularly children induced into commercial sex, and victims of sex trafficking in Latvia’s legal prostitution industry and provide relevant training to authorities.Investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking cases under the trafficking statute (Section 154-1 of the criminal law).Expand efforts to educate officials involved in judicial proceedings, particularly prosecutors and judges, to understand all forms of trafficking and apply anti-trafficking laws.Increase anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officials on working with victims, evidence collection, and understanding psychological coercion.Train authorities from agencies tasked primarily with non-trafficking issues, such as the State Labor Inspectorate, State Employment Agency, State Border Guard, and the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA), to identify trafficking cases for investigation and refer victims for assistance.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. Sections 154-1 and 154-2 of Latvia’s criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and between three and 12 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Judges and prosecutors had the power to reclassify cases from Section 154-1 to lesser crimes. Prosecutors could charge trafficking crimes under Section 164, which criminalized exploiting vulnerability or using deceit to involve individuals in commercial sex with prescribed penalties as lenient as community service or a fine. Additionally, law enforcement officials reportedly were more likely to investigate and charge suspected traffickers for crimes other than trafficking, such as pimping and transfer for sexual exploitation. Authorities used Section 165-1, which prohibited the transfer of individuals for the purpose of sexual exploitation, to prevent potential cases of trafficking by charging perpetrators who attempted to recruit individuals for sexual exploitation schemes abroad.

The State Police’s anti-trafficking unit, comprising 18 officers and specializing in investigating trafficking, brokered marriages, and related crimes, investigated three new cases (one sex trafficking and two labor trafficking) under Section 154-1 in 2019, the same number as in 2018. Authorities indicted three traffickers under Section 154-1, compared with one in 2018. Courts convicted three traffickers (two sex trafficking and one labor trafficking), compared with one in 2018. The convicted traffickers received prison sentences of five years and two months each, whereas in 2018 the convicted trafficker received a conditional sentence, resulting in no prison time. Under Section 165-1, authorities investigated one new case, indicted four defendants, and convicted two traffickers, who received prison sentences of six years and six months. By comparison, in 2018, authorities investigated two cases, indicted one defendant, and convicted one trafficker, who did not receive a prison sentence. In 2019, the anti-trafficking police unit seized approximately €463,000 ($520,230) in assets from suspected traffickers. The prosecutor general’s office completed two judicial assistance requests in trafficking cases from the United Kingdom and Ukraine. Furthermore, in January 2020, a reorganization established a specialized prosecution office that reviewed, monitored, and managed all trafficking-related cases of the Riga District Court pertaining to Section 154-1.

Perennial issues within the judicial system, such as lengthy trials, continued to limit Latvia’s prosecution efforts. For instance, a 2014 case involving two Riga police officers charged with facilitating pimping remained in court at the end of the reporting period. Prosecutors and judges possessed a limited understanding of trafficking. Experts reported the need for more training for authorities, particularly on applying anti-trafficking laws, working with victims, evidence collection, and understanding psychological coercion. The government addressed some knowledge gaps during the reporting period by training police on the different types of trafficking and preventive measures and border guards on victim identification.

The government increased efforts to protect victims. The government continued to contract two NGOs to assist victims in the state-funded, NGO-run victim assistance program, allocating €135,420 ($152,160) for the program, a slight increase from €135,110 ($151,810) in 2018. The program offered victims medical and psychological assistance, legal representation, housing, and reintegration services. In 2019, the government updated regulations to allow persons from state care institutions, such as orphanages, to enroll in the victim assistance program. Authorities enrolled victims in the program based on decisions by either law enforcement or an NGO-led panel of experts. In 2019, authorities enrolled 35 out of 39 identified victims (16 female and 23 male), compared with 33 in 2018. Twenty-eight of the enrollees were victims of labor trafficking and seven of sex trafficking. Twenty-three were foreign nationals, whereas in 2018 all enrolled victims were Latvian nationals. Experts attributed the shift to an increase in domestic labor trafficking of guest workers from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the Latvian agriculture and construction industries. Police, immigration, and social services had written procedures for identifying victims. Experts reported most government agencies lacked either the practical experience or willingness to identify victims and noted agencies tasked primarily with non-trafficking issues, such as the State Labor Inspectorate, State Employment Agency, State Border Guard, and the OCMA, rarely referred trafficking cases for investigation or victims for assistance. Identifying child trafficking victims domestically remained a challenge; authorities identified one victim in 2019, even though government officials cited orphanages as vulnerable and noted an increase in potential trafficking cases among minors in recent years. Experts criticized authorities for failing to report cases of sex trafficking of institutionalized minors and for instead giving victims limited assistance onsite. Furthermore, observers noted authorities’ limited knowledge of identifying child trafficking victims and trafficking indicators. Experts expressed concern about human trafficking in Latvia’s legal prostitution industry, noting law enforcement’s focus on fining potential victims who were not in compliance with prostitution regulations or other criminal statutes rather than on identifying victims.

Government regulations on assistance to trafficking victims limited state-funded rehabilitation services to six months, although victims whose cases went to trial received assistance, mostly legal counselling, for the duration of the legal proceedings. Four victims in the state rehabilitation program cooperated with law enforcement in 2019 (seven in 2018); male victims were often reluctant to work with police. Three trafficking victims received compensation from the State Agency for Judicial Assistance, which administered the victims’ compensation program (four in 2018). Two trafficking victims received state-funded voluntary repatriation and other services through the state assistance program.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The anti-trafficking working group monitored efforts, facilitated inter-ministerial information exchange, and implemented the 2014-2020 national action plan. Several ministries published quarterly and annual reports on trafficking, including a survey on the scope and social backgrounds of identified victims. Various ministries contributed to a number of public awareness campaigns, including on safe travel and labor exploitation. The Office of the Ombudsman, in conjunction with an NGO, monitored sexual abuse in orphanages and boarding schools to identify the risks of sex trafficking in the sector. A special police unit conducted training on trafficking-related issues and addiction focused on preventing child sex tourism and the sexual abuse of minors. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Latvia led a regional project to support stakeholders in combating and disrupting labor trafficking by analyzing and consolidating information, improving assistance to victims, and increasing prosecution of traffickers. The government participated in a four-country project establishing a comprehensive approach to the prevention and investigation of labor trafficking cases, particularly cases combining economic crime and illicit financial flows. In 2019, the state monitored the activities of licensed employment agencies but canceled no licenses for agencies in violation (12 in 2018). The government maintained emergency helplines that received 82 calls on potential trafficking situations; specialists referred 30 cases to law enforcement and NGOs.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Latvia, and traffickers exploit victims from Latvia abroad. Traffickers exploit Latvian women and girls in sex trafficking in Latvia and other parts of Europe. Latvian women recruited for brokered marriages in Western Europe are vulnerable to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced labor. Traffickers target single women with limited education, minors from disadvantaged families, students, unemployed adults, and people with mental disabilities by word-of-mouth and through social media. Observers reported children in state orphanages are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, although there have been no documented cases of trafficking of children living in state institutions. Latvian men and women are exploited in forced labor, mainly in other parts of Europe. Government officials report an increase in domestic labor trafficking of guest workers from Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine in the agriculture and construction industries and an influx of unregistered workers from Ukraine, Russia, and India in construction, hospitality, and taxi service.

U.S. Department of State

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