The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Sections 133, 133, 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’ imprisonment 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. Authorities most often used Section 175 to prosecute child pornography cases involving no element of commercial sex. 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.
The government included calls from the anti-trafficking hotline with any presumed element of trafficking as investigations in their 2021 data totals, before police determined the circumstances of the crime; these cases included potential crimes under Sections 133, 133¹ and 175. During the reporting period, the government began direct data collection that resulted in new categories for collecting statistics, intended to more accurately report on and inform national anti-trafficking efforts. Prior to 2021, government data regarding Section 175 did not differentiate between cases exclusively related to trafficking or cases related to other crimes, such as child pornography, which Estonian law classified as a trafficking crime, making it difficult to compare data on investigations from previous years. Moreover, according to the government, there was no exact figure available for the total number of labor trafficking cases investigated; therefore, the government estimated the number, rendering the data unreliable. In 2021, police investigated approximately 78 cases (28 sex trafficking, approximately 50 labor trafficking), compared with 35 in 2020. Of the 28 sex trafficking cases investigated, authorities found no evidence of trafficking and, therefore, pursued either child pornography or “pimping” charges. Of the approximately 50 labor trafficking cases reported, authorities confirmed one as trafficking and forwarded the case to the prosecutor’s office. Under Section 133, authorities prosecuted and convicted two traffickers, a significant decrease from prosecuting 15 cases, involving 10 suspected traffickers, and convicting 14 traffickers in 2020. Courts sentenced the two convicted traffickers to three years’ imprisonment and four years and one month’s imprisonment, respectively, and ordered them to pay restitution to their victims. Data on prosecutions and convictions under Section 175 was not comparable to previous years. Authorities continued to prosecute and convict traffickers under non-trafficking statutes, thus weakening deterrence, not adequately reflecting the nature of the crime, and undercutting broader efforts to fight trafficking. Under non-trafficking statutes, authorities prosecuted one trafficker and convicted two traffickers for forced criminality in which a 16-year-old girl was forced to steal. Separately, while prosecutors charged a man with child sex trafficking for exploiting children in commercial sex, courts convicted him of child pornography. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking crimes. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) noted difficulty prosecuting international labor trafficking cases, citing cases involving Estonian companies hiring Ukrainian or Polish temporary workers as particularly complex. As part of a regional project to enhance law enforcement cooperation and training on trafficking, Estonian, Finnish, and Latvian authorities collaborated to strengthen capacity to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, disrupt the financial gains of traffickers, and help victims access justice.
Overextension of personnel remained the government’s primary constraint, limiting specialization and knowledge of trafficking. Nationally, approximately 10 specialized investigators and four specialized prosecutors worked on trafficking cases. There was no dedicated unit within the police responsible for investigating trafficking cases; specialized investigators were part of the Drug and Organized Crime Division within each prefecture. As a result, no separate budget line item existed for trafficking investigation efforts. Police expressed the need to establish a centralized unit that would collect and verify information on trafficking-related crimes and allocate funding for investigation efforts. Observers agreed a dedicated unit could yield successes and added it could improve the quality of cases presented to prosecutors and prioritize trafficking cases. Experts reported the need for increased training for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and front-line personnel on understanding different forms of exploitation and identifying trafficking victims. In 2021, the MOJ and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) organized a two-day seminar for police, prosecutors, labor and custom inspectors, and victim support personnel on psychological first aid and trauma awareness; victims’ support services; prosecuting trafficking crimes under the trafficking statute; and projected changes to the Victim Support Act, including creating qualification requirements for victim support personnel and updating conditions determining who receives victim support services. The police included a trafficking module, covering national and international law, forms of exploitation, and protecting victims, as part of the curriculum for future officers.