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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 while considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Latvia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating more trafficking cases; seizing significantly more assets from suspected traffickers; and identifying and referring more trafficking victims. Furthermore, the government amended the labor law to protect the rights of employees posted abroad and hold employers liable for the employee’s terms of employment and working conditions. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Courts convicted one trafficker and issued a suspended sentence with no prison time—thereby denying the serious nature of the crime. 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 how to apply anti-trafficking laws.

Investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking cases under the trafficking statute (Section 154-1 of the criminal law) rather than for lesser crimes and issue significant sentences, involving imprisonment of at least one year, to convicted traffickers. • Proactively identify trafficking victims, including children induced into commercial sex and victims of sex trafficking in Latvia’s legal commercial sex industry, and provide relevant training to authorities. • Develop and implement a national referral mechanism to include guidance on identification, referral, and information exchange among stakeholders. • 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 to identify trafficking cases for investigation and refer victims for assistance. • Regulate and monitor recruitment agencies for labor trafficking indicators and hold fraudulent agencies civilly or criminally liable. • Approve and implement a national action plan (NAP) for 2021.

The government maintained 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 seven new cases (one sex trafficking and six labor trafficking) under Section 154-1, an increase from three in 2019. Authorities prosecuted two traffickers (one sex trafficking and one labor trafficking) under Section 154-1 (three in 2019), and courts convicted one trafficker (three in 2019). The convicted trafficker received a suspended sentence with no jail time, whereas in 2019 the convicted traffickers received prison sentences of five years and two months each. Under Section 165-1, authorities investigated one new case, prosecuted one defendant, and convicted zero traffickers. By comparison, in 2019, authorities investigated one case, prosecuted four defendants, and convicted two traffickers, who received prison sentences of six years and six months. In 2020, the anti-trafficking police unit seized approximately €1.7 million ($2.1 million) in assets from suspected traffickers, a significant increase from €463,000 ($568,000) in 2019. The majority of the assets seized pertained to a labor trafficking case in a cookie factory involving Indian and Uzbek workers. The prosecutor general’s office reviewed one judicial assistance request in a trafficking case from Germany and submitted one to Morocco. A specialized prosecution office reviewed, monitored, and managed all Riga District Court trafficking-related cases pertaining to Section 154-1. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.

Perennial issues within the judicial system, such as lengthy trials and lenient sentences, which often resulted in no jail time for convicted traffickers, remained the government’s greatest deficiency—providing limited deterrence, contributing to the underreporting of trafficking crimes, and undermining defendants’ rights to a fair trial within a reasonable time. For instance, a 2014 case involving two Riga police officers charged with facilitating pimping remained in court at the end of the reporting period. Reports persisted that police, prosecutors, and judges lacked an understanding of trafficking. Experts noted 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 knowledge gaps during the reporting period by training prosecutors and consular employees on aspects of labor trafficking; judges on prevention measures; border guards on victim identification; and police on the different types of trafficking and recruitment methods. Experts noted, though, that a lack of interest in training among law enforcement officials often led to poor attendance at international and local seminars. To improve law enforcement’s response to trafficking, the government committed to a project with an Estonian university and international organizations to enhance law enforcement cooperation and training on trafficking.

The government increased efforts to protect victims. In 2020, authorities identified 47 trafficking victims (37 labor trafficking, 10 sex trafficking), an increase from 39 in 2019. Police, immigration, and social services utilized written procedures for identifying victims. Authorities referred victims to the assistance program based on decisions by either law enforcement or an NGO-led panel of experts. Experts reported most government agencies lacked either the practical experience or willingness to identify victims and noted agencies tasked primarily with non-trafficking issues rarely referred trafficking cases for investigation or victims for assistance. Additionally, experts raised concerns that the lack of a centralized referral mechanism hindered coordination among stakeholders and the facilitation of care for all potential victims. Subsequently, in August 2020, the prime minister directed the development of a national referral mechanism to include guidance on identification, referral, and information exchange. Identifying child trafficking victims domestically remained a challenge; authorities identified two children in 2020 (one in 2019) even though government officials cited orphanages as vulnerable and noted an increase in potential trafficking cases involving children in recent years. Observers maintained the crime remained underreported and stated further education of staff at institutions, such as orphanages, could lead to increased identification of child trafficking victims. In 2019, 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 but, due to the pandemic, ceased the study during 2020. Nevertheless, the ombudsman maintained children of municipal and private social care providers were most vulnerable to trafficking risks. Child protection conducted 76 inspections of possible children’s rights violations (eight at orphanages), but none resulted in a trafficking case.

The government continued to contract two NGOs to assist victims in the state-funded, NGO-run assistance program, allocating €201,000 ($247,000), a notable increase from €135,000 ($166,000) in 2019. The program offered victims medical and psychological assistance, legal representation, housing, and reintegration services. While shelters were available to trafficking victims, with the growing number of labor trafficking victims, NGOs reported the need for specialized shelters. The assistance program certified more victims in 2020 (44 compared with 35 in 2019) due to the increase in identified labor trafficking victims. Thirty-one of the victims certified were foreign nationals (28 in 2019), continuing the swing from 2018 when all certified victims were Latvian nationals. Experts attributed the shift to an increase in domestic labor trafficking of guest workers from India, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in the Latvian agriculture and construction industries. Latvian law allowed foreign victims to receive residence permits and a 30-day reflection period to consider claiming formal status as a trafficking victim. In 2020, the government granted a 30-day reflection period to eight victims and issued 17 temporary residence permits. Experts expressed concern about human trafficking in Latvia’s legal commercial sex industry and the potential penalization of victims, noting law enforcement’s focus on fining potential victims who were not in compliance with 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. In 2020, 22 victims cooperated with law enforcement, a significant increase from four in 2019; 20 were victims of labor trafficking. Two trafficking victims received compensation from the State Agency for Judicial Assistance, which administered the victims’ compensation program (three in 2019). During the reporting period, the government amended the Law on Social Services and Social Assistance to prohibit trafficking victims from losing their social allowances once they received court-ordered compensation. In 2020, one trafficking victim received partial court-ordered restitution from their traffickers (two in 2019). One trafficking victim received state-funded voluntary repatriation and other services through the state assistance program.

The government increased prevention efforts. Although the government’s NAP expired during the reporting period, a new NAP was pending review and approval. Several ministries published quarterly and annual reports on trafficking, including a survey on the scope and social backgrounds of identified victims. The ministries of interior and foreign affairs conducted a joint awareness campaign, informing the public about the different forms of trafficking, risks and repercussions associated with trafficking, and opportunities for assistance. Other government agencies also contributed to a number of public awareness campaigns, including on safe travel and labor exploitation. In accordance with European Parliament directives, the government amended its labor law, obligating employers to regulate working conditions for employees posted abroad. The government also amended the law to penalize employers for not providing a written contract and minimum wage to employees. With the rise of third country nationals arriving in Latvia for employment, the government amended labor regulations on recruitment agencies, requiring agencies to provide job-related information to employees in a language they understand. Based on regional research examining labor trafficking cases, particularly cases combining economic crime and illicit financial flows, the government developed guidelines for authorities to use in identifying cases. 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. In 2020, the state monitored the activities of licensed employment agencies, but did not report any canceled licenses for agencies in violation, the same as in 2019. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The State Police participated in an international project aiming to combat sexual exploitation among children by addressing trafficking risks, victim vulnerability, and cooperation with law enforcement. A special police unit focused on preventing child sex tourism and the sexual abuse of children. Child protection maintained a helpline for child victims of abuse, including trafficking. The government maintained emergency helplines that received 74 calls on potential trafficking situations.

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, other parts of Europe, and the United States. 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, children from disadvantaged families, students, unemployed adults, and people with mental disabilities by word-of-mouth and through social media. Latvian men and women are exploited in forced labor, mainly in other parts of Europe. The government reports a decrease in international trafficking, which it attributes to underreporting. Government officials report an increase in domestic labor trafficking of guest workers, particularly men, from India, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine, most of whom arrive in Latvia legally with Schengen or student visas and mainly work in the agriculture, construction, food, and hospitality industries. The State Labor Inspectorate reports increasing numbers of illegal workers in the transportation industry, including taxi drivers from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan who receive work contracts from Polish recruitment agencies, at risk to trafficking. Illegal migrants from Vietnam, Pakistan, Algeria, and Russia, some of whom may be or may become trafficking victims, transit Latvia en route to Western Europe. Observers reported children in state orphanages are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, although there have been no documented sex trafficking cases of children living in state institutions.

U.S. Department of State

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