The government maintained protection efforts. Authorities identified 24 victims, the lowest number of identified victims since 2013 (36 in 2019); however, amid reports indicating foreign workers were at high risk to exploitation, authorities identified 11 foreign victims in 2020, an increase from six in 2019. As in previous years, experts raised concerns that the data collected across government agencies and civil society was inconsistent and did not provide a comprehensive picture of the trafficking situation. While authorities implemented formal victim identification and referral mechanisms for victim assistance, observers reported authorities in some parts of the country underutilized both and lacked the skills to identify victims. Additionally, observers reported the mechanisms lacked best practices for how to interview victims, especially children, and as a result, victims were often questioned several times, placing them under additional stress.
In accordance with European Parliament directives, the government passed a law entitling all crime victims, including trafficking victims, access to assistance, including counseling, regardless of whether victims sought assistance from law enforcement. The government allocated €245,000 ($301,000) to NGOs for victim assistance, an increase from €190,000 ($233,000) in 2019. Government-funded NGOs supported 208 trafficking victims, including the 24 identified victims and at-risk individuals, compared with 224 in 2019. A formal mechanism existed between police and NGOs to refer victims to NGO facilities; however, NGOs alleged authorities did not refer all victims to care facilities. Facilities provided short- or long-term assistance, such as health care, psychological and social counseling, and shelter, to trafficking victims. Authorities placed Lithuanian female trafficking victims in municipal and NGO-facilitated shelters for victims of domestic violence and had the option to place foreign victims at a refugee reception center in Rukla. Five crisis centers provided assistance to male victims, including finding accommodations. Authorities placed child victims in foster care homes or mixed-use shelters, as there were no shelters specifically for child trafficking victims. Experts raised concerns about inadequate protection and assistance measures for child victims. According to observers, child protective services struggled to identify child victims and refer them to care, especially in rural areas. In 2020, authorities identified one child victim, compared with four in 2019. Child protective services organized a training on identifying child victims for 63 child rights specialists with plans to expand the training to more specialists. Child sexual abuse victims, including trafficking victims, could seek assistance in the government-operated national support center in Vilnius. Municipalities continued to finance and implement reforms to the institutional child care system with the goal to move all children from institutions to families. As part of the reforms, municipalities converted large institutions into community houses, which accommodated up to eight children. In 2020, 567 children lived in community homes, and 1,200 children remained in state care homes. The minister of social affairs and labor signed a decree prohibiting the placement of new children into care at orphanages as of January 1, 2020. Foreign trafficking victims had the same access to care as Lithuanian victims. Legislation allowed foreign victims a 30-day reflection period to decide whether to cooperate with law enforcement; foreign victims cooperating with law enforcement could receive temporary residency.
During the reporting period, the government passed amendments to the anti-trafficking law, which included a non-punishment provision establishing that labor trafficking victims not be penalized for committing offenses related to forced labor and services. While the government encouraged victims to cooperate in investigations and prosecutions, the absence of a clear policy on how victims would be adequately protected and law enforcement’s shortcomings in this area contributed to victims’ reluctance to assist in cases. In particular, traffickers sometimes threatened victims as they were entering or exiting the courtroom, and victims lacked access to mental health professionals during or after their interviews by law enforcement. Although the government provided legal representation to victims, observers reported attorneys had little experience with trafficking issues; as a result, NGOs often hired private attorneys for victims. There were no state-run victim compensation programs, but victims could apply to the court for financial compensation from their trafficker. In 2020, 20 victims applied for compensation, and courts ordered payment of €29,000 ($35,600) in non-material damage and €5,340 ($6,550) in material damage.