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MOLDOVA: Tier 2

The Government of Moldova 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 Moldova remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting and convicting more traffickers, allocating more funding to victim services, and commencing development of a center for male trafficking victims. Furthermore, the Prosecutors General Office (PGO) issued guidelines requiring all police and prosecutors to conduct financial investigations, including asset forfeitures, as part of trafficking investigations. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities investigated fewer trafficking cases and identified fewer trafficking victims. Corruption, particularly in law enforcement and the judiciary, impeded prosecutions and influenced the outcomes of cases, including cases against complicit officials. The government did not report any complicit officials involved in trafficking crimes despite contradictory reports from civil society and a long history of complicity by government employees. Traffickers continued to intimidate victims, and authorities provided uneven levels of protection during court proceedings. Protection and assistance for child victims remained inadequate, despite the increasing number of children identified. The government limited unannounced labor inspections, which was the county’s main mechanism to identify child labor, including forced child labor, and permitted authorities to conduct announced onsite inspections only if they received written complaints and gave businesses 10 days’ notice, providing traffickers opportunity to evade detection.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials.Implement measures to address corruption in the judicial sector and law enforcement community, including taking steps to shield trafficking investigators and prosecutors from external influence and internal corruption.Exempt all victims from the requirement of in-person confrontations with their accused traffickers before an investigation can begin.Ensure consistent use of laws and regulations designed to protect victims during trial, take steps to protect victims and witnesses during court proceedings, and prosecute perpetrators of witness tampering and intimidation.Increase shelter and rehabilitation assistance to child trafficking victims.Proactively identify trafficking victims, including undocumented migrants, and refer them to care facilities for assistance.Empower authorities to conduct onsite unannounced labor inspections and announced inspections regardless of whether authorities receive written complaints.Amend the law to allow authorities to inspect facilities when they have suspicions or visual evidence of businesses’ involvement in child labor, including forced child labor, and to delegate authority to the State Labor Inspectorate to conduct labor inspections.Train police, judges, and prosecutors on a victim-centered approach to investigations and prosecutions.Improve cooperation with non-governmental care providers, including coordination on policy development and assisting victims cooperating with investigations.Formalize government oversight of private employment agencies, including monitoring for any recruitment fees charged to applicants.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Articles 165 and 206 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of six to 12 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving an adult victim and 10 to 12 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 168 of the criminal code also criminalized forced labor and imposed penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment. In 2019, authorities conducted 153 investigations, a decrease from 223 in 2018 and 185 in 2017. The government initiated 90 prosecutions (55 sex trafficking, 35 labor trafficking, including forced begging), compared with 83 in 2018 and 85 in 2017. Courts issued 63 convictions (59 in 2018, 58 in 2017). Prison sentences ranged from four years and eight months to 17 years. During the reporting period, authorities cooperated with foreign counterparts on trafficking investigations.

Major political upheaval in 2019 and existing law enforcement deficiencies hindered government progress. The Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons (CCTIP), the specialized anti-trafficking law enforcement body, continued to suffer from turnover of experienced staff, limiting its ability to investigate complex cases, including transnational criminal organizations or complicit government officials. In a case referred to CCTIP for investigation in 2019, observers reported alleged complicity by a Moldovan Border Police officer suspected in connection with exploiting a person with disabilities; the case remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Despite this report and a long history of complicity by government employees, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Furthermore, corruption in the judicial system remained an acute impediment to bringing traffickers to justice with prosecutors, members of the judiciary, and members of law enforcement implicated in corrupt practices. Courts frequently reversed convictions on appeal, sometimes without explanation or on weak grounds. Judges tended to re-qualify cases from trafficking crimes to crimes with lesser penalties, such as pimping, and issue disproportionate sentences to traffickers for the same crimes committed under the same circumstances. Observers noted prosecutors sent trafficking cases to court without sufficient evidence collection and withheld case files from lawyers representing victims. Moreover, lengthy trials impeded justice and often led to the acquittal of traffickers. Since final verdicts could take years, and by law, authorities could only detain suspects for 12 months, authorities released suspected traffickers before trials concluded, enabling them to flee the country or retaliate against witnesses.

The PGO maintained a Trafficking in Persons and Cybercrimes Unit with specialized prosecutors, who focused on trafficking cases. In 2019, PGO issued guidelines requiring all police and prosecutors to conduct financial investigations, including asset forfeitures, as part of trafficking investigations. The Chisinau Prosecutor’s Office maintained an Anti-Trafficking Bureau and conducted the prosecution of trafficking cases from Chisinau municipality; at the district level, specialized prosecutors conducted the prosecution of trafficking cases. Poverty, along with widespread corruption and tax avoidance, limited the government’s ability to fund key law enforcement and social protection institutes. As a result, the government relied heavily on donor funding to train police, border guards, prosecutors, and judges.

PROTECTION

The government maintained victim protection efforts. In 2019, the government identified 341 trafficking victims, compared with 364 in 2018. Of the identified victims, 109 were children, a significant increase from 60 in 2018. Similar to the previous reporting period, a limited number of identified victims received assistance— 71 in 2019, compared with 110 in 2018. Teams of local officials and NGOs in all regions of Moldova coordinated victim identification and assistance. The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) governed identification procedures. Observers reported the NRM lacked policy guidance and hindered efficient identification and referral. Some law enforcement officials intentionally avoided taking action on victim identification, and border police did not consistently screen undocumented migrants for trafficking before placing them in detention facilities. Furthermore, law enforcement failed to refer two-thirds of identified victims to shelters or NGOs for victim assistance due to poor cooperation between law enforcement and civil society.

Victims received protection and assistance in government-funded centers across the country. In 2019, the government allocated approximately 11 million lei ($643,270) for victim services, an increase compared with nine million lei ($526,320) in 2018. The government often relied on NGOs and international organizations to supplement government employee salaries and fund victim services; government contributions were often insufficient to cover basic living expenses for both employees and victims. Social workers in outlying regions lacked specialized training, which led to inefficient and poor quality services offered to victims and contributed to the risk of re-victimization. The government assisted adult trafficking victims through regional centers where they received shelter and medical, legal, and psychological assistance, regardless of their cooperation with law enforcement. However, psychological assistance, legal aid, and long-term reintegration support were insufficient, and some victims were unable to obtain the free medical insurance afforded under Moldovan law. Male victims were entitled to all forms of assistance, but lacked access to shelters. In 2019, the government in collaboration with an international organization commenced development of a center to support male trafficking victims with specialized services and accommodation for up to 10 men. Child trafficking victims received assistance through the Center for Assistance and Protection (CAP). The CAP shelter in Chisinau remained the only facility for child victims despite children representing nearly a third of all identified victims. In 2019, CAP assisted 18 children with specialized medical care and social, psychological, and legal assistance. Authorities placed child victims with relatives, in foster care, or in rehabilitation clinics that provided specialized medical and psychological care. Children’s rights groups noted the limited assistance to child victims put them at a higher risk for institutionalization and further trauma. Foreign victims received the same access to care as citizens. Authorities granted foreign victims a 30-day reflection period during which they could receive assistance and protection from deportation. Foreign victims who chose to cooperate with law enforcement received temporary residence. Victims in Transnistria could not access or benefit from Moldovan services or legal protections.

The government did not adequately protect victims participating in investigations and prosecutions. Law enforcement seldom fully informed victims of their rights, and victims did not understand court proceedings. Victims relied mostly on NGOs for legal assistance. The law required adult victims to confront their alleged traffickers in person, putting victims at risk for re-traumatization and likely deterring victims from reporting crimes. Judges frequently disregarded laws and regulations designed to protect victims during trial proceedings, thereby violating victims’ rights and allowing traffickers to intimidate some victims in the courtroom such that the victims felt pressured to change their testimony. Consequently, authorities could fine or imprison victims for making false statements if they changed their testimony, whether deliberately due to bribes or intimidation, or unintentionally due to the trauma experienced. The law allowed victims to receive restitution. In 2019, the courts ordered damages in favor of victims for 504,000 lei ($29,470); however, victims did not receive any reparation. Victims could submit compensation claims to the Ministry of Justice when they could not obtain compensation from the convicted perpetrator. Law enforcement recovered criminal assets from traffickers totaling 1.55 million lei ($90,640). The criminal code exempted trafficking victims from criminal liability for committing offenses because of their exploitation. However, when authorities classified cases under related statutes, such as the article criminalizing forced labor, victims were no longer exempt from criminal liability. Similarly, when authorities reclassified sex trafficking cases to pimping cases, victims were no longer exempt from punishment and could be charged with prostitution offenses.

PREVENTION

The government maintained prevention efforts. The government continued to implement its 2018-2020 national strategy and national action plan. The Permanent Secretariat of the National Committee on Combatting Trafficking published several online reports, including one on evaluating risks in combating transnational crime, focusing on trafficking and illegal migration. In collaboration with civil society and international organizations, the government executed several awareness campaigns mostly funded by donor assistance. In 2019, the government limited unannounced labor inspections, which was the county’s main mechanism to identify child labor, including forced child labor, and permitted authorities to conduct announced onsite inspections provided they received written complaints and gave businesses 10 days’ notice, giving traffickers opportunity to evade detection. During inspections, authorities could only focus on the alleged violation outlined in the complaint, even if they identified other egregious violations, such as forced child labor. The law prohibited authorities from inspecting facilities even when they had suspicions or visual evidence of businesses’ involvement in child labor, including forced child labor. The law also limited the State Labor Inspectorate’s authority to conduct inspections and delegated the responsibilities to 10 different government agencies. Due to these legal changes, government and NGO sources reported that the child labor violations identified by the government did not reflect the scale of the country’s problem. Additionally, government officials expressed concern about noncompliance with Moldova’s international obligations to perform unannounced labor inspections and the lack of knowledge many of the 10 agencies possessed to conduct inspections. Moreover, there was no mechanism to conduct labor inspections, including for child labor and forced child labor, in Transnistria. The government reported conducting 111 unannounced labor inspections in 2019. In December 2019, the Permanent Secretariat organized a workshop on employment legislation and avoiding labor trafficking in the workplace for employers in the agriculture sector. The National Agency for Employment provided information on the benefits of a registered employment contract between employees and employers and the risks of illegal employment abroad. The agency also conducted information sessions on safe migration. Observers noted the general lax oversight and control of private recruitment agencies, particularly those offering foreign job opportunities, as a key trafficking vulnerability. The government funded and operated several trafficking hotlines available in Romanian and Russian and reported receiving 39 calls related to trafficking crimes. The government also provided partial funding to an NGO to manage a hotline on child abuse and exploitation. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Moldova, and traffickers exploit victims from Moldova abroad. Traffickers exploit Moldovan victims in sex trafficking and labor trafficking within Moldova and in other parts of Europe and the Middle East. Traffickers operating in Romania and Moldova exploit Moldovan women and girls through Romania with fraudulent passports in trafficking operations across Europe. Most victims are from rural areas and have low levels of education. Children represent a third of all victims identified. Traffickers exploit children ages 5 to 14 in commercial sex acts and child labor, most of them in agriculture, service, and industrial sectors. Children, living on the street or in orphanages or abandoned by parents migrating abroad, remain vulnerable to exploitation. Child sex tourism remains a concern, including from the EU, Turkey, Australia, Israel, Thailand, and the United States. Children are exploited in online child pornography, which experts note is used as a grooming method for sex trafficking. Labor trafficking remains the most prevalent form of exploitation among adult victims. Labor migrants remain at risk of trafficking, particularly in labor-intensive sectors such as the construction industry. The undocumented, or stateless, population, including the Roma community, within Moldova are at risk of exploitation, primarily in the agricultural sector. The breakaway region of Transnistria remains a source for predominately sex trafficking victims. Women from Gagauzia—a Turkic-speaking autonomous territorial region—are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Turkey or Northern Cyprus. Official complicity in trafficking continues to be a significant problem in Moldova.

U.S. Department of State

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