ESTONIA (Tier 1)

The Government of Estonia fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.  The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Estonia remained on Tier 1.  These efforts included convicting more traffickers; issuing sentences involving significant prison terms; providing victim support services to all identified and potential victims; and developing a three-year anti-trafficking NAP.  In addition, the government passed amendments to the Victim Support Act (VSA) more clearly defining educational requirements for specialists working with victims and the provision of services.  The government also enacted a new law raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 years old to help protect children from sexual crimes, including trafficking.  Furthermore, to reduce the risk of trafficking among Ukrainian refugees, the Labor Inspectorate (LI) hired 10 labor inspectors and five lawyers to conduct inspections of workplaces where Ukrainian refugees were employed and provide counseling.  Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities prosecuted fewer traffickers, marking the fewest prosecutions since 2015.  For the second consecutive year, the government changed the methodology for collecting and reporting investigation and identification statistics, making it difficult for the government to understand accurately the trafficking situation in country, discern year-to-year trends, and compare data.  Moreover, the government reported the fewest number of identified victims since it started tracking and reporting data.  Finally, the government decreased funding toward victim support services.

  • Significantly increase efforts to identify potential trafficking victims. 
  • Proactively investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers. 
  • Implement with consistency a reliable comprehensive statistical system for collecting and collating data, particularly for investigations and victim identification, and ensure the reported data is accurate, official, and comparable to previous years. 
  • Ensure adequate financial support for victim support services. 
  • Increase efforts to grant residence permits to foreign victims. 
  • Expand efforts to conduct more international investigations, particularly on sophisticated labor trafficking schemes that occur across multiple countries and jurisdictions. 
  • Train relevant authorities to understand different types of trafficking, recognize indicators, and identify victims. 
  • Establish a specialized unit within the police to prioritize trafficking cases and train them on building cases, such as collecting evidence, and allocate funding for investigations.  

The government maintained law enforcement efforts.  Sections 133, 133¹, 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 crimes 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 crimes 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 crime, 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.

Over the past two years, the government changed its methodology for collecting investigation statistics to report more accurately on year-to-year trends and inform national anti-trafficking efforts.  Prior to 2021, statistics included all cases classified as trafficking crimes under Estonian law, such as child pornography and “pimping.”  In 2021, the government changed its reporting methodology to include:  (1) all cases with any presumed element of trafficking before police determined the circumstances of the crime; and (2) an estimated number of labor trafficking cases because no exact figure was available.  After observers raised concerns that the statistics were unreliable, in 2022, the government changed its reporting methodology again to include only new investigations by police for crimes under trafficking statutes, excluding child pornography and “pimping.”  Therefore, investigation statistics could not be compared to previous year statistics.  In 2022, police investigated 11 cases (two sex trafficking, six labor trafficking, three unspecified forms of trafficking).  The government had previously reported 78 investigations in 2021 and 35 in 2020.  Authorities prosecuted one trafficker (two in 2021), marking the fewest prosecutions since 2015.  Courts convicted four traffickers, an increase from two in 2021.  Sentences ranged from two to 11 years’ imprisonment.  The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking crimes.  While authorities cooperated with foreign governments on transnational investigations, observers noted a need for more joint investigations with international partners, citing an increasing number of sophisticated labor trafficking schemes that were difficult to prosecute as criminal cases because traffickers worked in multiple countries and jurisdictions and exploited loopholes in the law.  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 a chief constraint, limiting specialization and knowledge of trafficking.  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.  Observers noted a dedicated unit would prioritize trafficking cases, establish a dedicated budget line item for trafficking investigations, yield a more proactive approach to investigations, and improve the quality of cases presented to prosecutors.  Similar to the police, the Prosecutor’s Office did not have a dedicated unit responsible for prosecuting trafficking cases, but there were prosecutors who worked on trafficking, among other crimes.  The Prosecutor’s Office appointed one prosecutor to coordinate trafficking-related activities and cooperation among prosecutors throughout Estonia.  Experts reported the need for increased training for police, prosecutors, judges, and front-line personnel on understanding different forms of trafficking and identifying victims.  In 2022, the Ministry of Social Affairs provided €8,000 ($8,550) for trafficking-related training.  In turn, the government conducted a range of anti-trafficking trainings for police, inspectors, prosecutors, and victim support specialists, including on recognizing and responding to indicators, victim identification procedures, reporting requirements, and illicit financial flows.

The government slightly decreased protection efforts.  Over the past two years, the government changed its methodology for collecting and reporting victim identification statistics.  Prior to 2021, statistics included victims of all crimes classified as trafficking under Estonian law, including child pornography and “pimping.”  In 2021, the government changed the reporting methodology to include individuals who called the national hotline, and the government presumed their circumstances had some element, however slight, of force, fraud, or coercion and, in turn, considered them as potential victims.  After observers raised concerns the statistics were unreliable, in 2022, the government changed its reporting methodology again to exclude victims of child pornography and “pimping,” and screen more closely potential victims who called the hotline.  This methodological change, though more accurately reflective of year-to-year trends, made it difficult to compare data from previous years.  In 2022, authorities identified four victims (all sex trafficking), a significantly lower number compared to anecdotal trends on trafficking in Estonia.  In 2021, the government reported identifying 417 victims; in 2020, the government reported identifying 34 victims.  Authorities also identified 43 victims of sexual exploitation and 64 victims of labor exploitation, who, upon further investigation, authorities determined were not trafficking victims.  Authorities considered individuals in commercial sex as potential victims until proven otherwise through an investigation and screened them for trafficking indicators.

Authorities used written guidelines for identifying victims and an additional questionnaire and checklist to identify indicators among asylum-seekers.  After identification, police referred victims to victim support services.  The government utilized a data-sharing system to expedite the exchange of information from police to social services, ensuring potential victims received immediate assistance.  In 2022, police referred all four identified sex trafficking victims (two women, two girls), 43 sexual exploitation victims, and 64 labor exploitation victims to support services.  Under the VSA, all potential victims received comprehensive government-funded, trafficking-specific services, such as counseling, accommodation, and psychological, medical, and legal assistance, without first requiring victims’ cooperation with police or the commencement of criminal proceedings.  Victims who cooperated with law enforcement received services for an unrestricted period, while victims who did not participate in criminal proceedings could receive government-funded services for up to 60 days.  No victims participated in investigations or prosecutions during the reporting period.  In 2022, Parliament passed amendments to the VSA to define more clearly educational requirements for specialists, such as basic victim assistance training and training on human trafficking, working with victims and the provision of services.  The amendments required police and/or the Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an initial investigation to determine the type and duration of services.  During the initial investigation, all potential victims received support services from the Social Insurance Board (SIB) for up to 14 days, after which the local government funded services until police and/or the Prosecutor’s Office determined the person was a trafficking victim.

SIB coordinated and provided all victim support services and received €120,000 ($128,210) in 2022, a decrease from €350,656 ($374,540) in 2021.  In 2022, SIB contracted five hotels to provide safe accommodation with food and financial assistance to adult victims, and, if necessary, children.  Typically, authorities placed child victims and unaccompanied children in three dedicated centers for child victims of abuse, including trafficking, offering specialized services for up to 60 days.  Local government funding covered services beyond 60 days.  The government based the three centers on the Barnahus method – a multidisciplinary and interagency model offering a coordinated and effective response based specifically on a child victim’s needs – and trained employees.  Authorities followed guidelines for trafficking cases involving children, including cooperating with Barnahus to conduct interviews, perform medical examinations, and provide need-based services and assistance.  In 2022, the government enacted a new law raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 years old to help protect children from sexual crimes, including trafficking; the law did not require proof of force, fraud, or coercion.  The government disseminated NGO-developed guidance on assisting trafficking victims with disabilities.  The Aliens Act enabled foreign victims to receive temporary residence permits, accommodation, and education; the government did not grant any temporary residence permits to foreign victims, the same as in 2021.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) provided legal aid for victims with low incomes and people with specialized needs, such as individuals with psychological or physical disabilities.  The law allowed victims to obtain restitution from traffickers in criminal cases and file civil suits against traffickers for compensation.  In the two 2022 convictions, courts ordered traffickers to pay victims restitution in the amount of €15,070 ($16,100).

The government increased prevention efforts.  As the national trafficking coordinator, MOJ monitored implementation of anti-trafficking policies and plans, led domestic and international cooperation, and received €4,750 ($5,080) for anti-trafficking activities.  The government convened a national roundtable to facilitate interagency coordination; the roundtable comprised multiple agencies working on anti-trafficking activities and published an annual report of those activities.  In 2022, the government developed a new three-year NAP based on the 2021-2025 Violence Prevention Agreement, which focused on combating various forms of violence, including trafficking.  The NAP outlined several anti-trafficking activities, such as legislative changes, training, and awareness programs.  Several agencies conducted awareness-raising activities educating at-risk communities, such as children and migrant workers, on the risks of trafficking, including informational seminars on support services available to foreign victims and educational videos on recognizing indicators.  In 2022, the government created an e-mail for all government agencies, employees, and the general public to report suspected trafficking cases.  The Police and Prosecutor’s Office received the information for consideration before beginning an investigation.  By the end of 2022, 19 e-mails were received, and 14 showed indicators of potential trafficking situations.  However, after investigation, the government did not find the cases to be trafficking and did not commence with criminal proceedings.  Additionally, the government managed an anti-trafficking hotline, which received 569 calls from potential victims, of which authorities began investigations into 47 sex trafficking cases and 64 labor trafficking cases; the hotline provided counseling and services in Estonian, Russian, and English.  The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by implementing a program aimed to change the attitudes and behaviors of commercial sex consumers and by conducting research on the creation of the program.  The government also conducted and co-financed a media campaign on sexual violence and reducing the demand for commercial sex.

In 2022, Parliament passed amendments to the Aliens Act, regulating foreign nationals’ right to work in Estonia and establishing more flexible conditions for them to stay, study, or settle.  The amendments also simplified the process for refugees fleeing Ukraine to work in Estonia.  Estonian law prevented the misuse of employment regulations and ensured enterprises paid taxes and migrant workers the average monthly salary required by the law.  Additionally, the law prohibited recruitment agencies from charging fees to job seekers for placement services and required LI to monitor agencies for compliance.  LI provided migrant or local workers with free legal services regarding work-related problems, such as unpaid salary, and maintained an informational phone line and website on workers’ rights.  In 2022, LI updated its portal, which was available in Estonian, English, and Russian, with information on preventing labor trafficking.  Also, in 2022, the Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB) conducted informational seminars for employers on foreign nationals’ rights to work in Estonia.  In an effort to decrease the number of undocumented foreign workers, reduce the number of cases of delayed or under payment, and improve occupational safety and health, the government adopted amendments to create a new electronic registration system for construction site employees to provide insight into subcontracting relationships and working hours, and projected implementation in 2023.

Since the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, more than 110,000 Ukrainian refugees arrived in Estonia with approximately 60,000 remaining in country.  To reduce the risk of trafficking among refugees, LI hired 10 labor inspectors and five lawyers to conduct independent inspections of workplaces where Ukrainian refugees were employed and provide counseling.  LI received approximately €430,000 ($459,400) for inspections, advisory and counseling services, trafficking prevention, and information activities.  LI detected no major violations.  SIB and PBGB provided crisis counseling services and ongoing assistance to refugees and volunteers working on refugee issues and training on recognizing trafficking-related indicators to all workers and volunteers.  In addition, LI conducted a media and print awareness campaign on labor trafficking resources for vulnerable Ukrainian refugees.  The government also created informational pamphlets and videos on trafficking risks and services for refugees.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Estonia, and, to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Estonia abroad.  Trafficking victims originate from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, North America, and South America.  In general, women and children are mainly at risk of sex trafficking and men of labor trafficking.  Traffickers, some from foreign countries, recruit and exploit Estonian citizens, including children as young as nine with promises of money or video games, via the internet and social media.  Typically, the majority of trafficking cases in Estonia are labor trafficking cases that involve male foreign nationals.  Migrant workers, most of whom are Ukrainian, are vulnerable to labor exploitation within Estonia, particularly in the construction and manufacturing sectors.  In 2022, Ukrainians comprised the vast majority of identified labor exploitation victims.  A common scheme involves an Estonian company subcontracting a Ukrainian company to provide temporary workers; the Estonian company pays salaries, sometimes below market rate, to the foreign company, which withholds the money from the workers.  Citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova are at risk of labor trafficking in the cleaning sector.  Citizens of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh arrive in Estonia to work in the food sector where they are vulnerable to exploitation by their fellow countrymen.  The government reports an increase in the number of individuals from Central Asia who come to Estonia for employment and are forced to pay high recruitment fees to recruiters who are typically from the same country as the victims and have ties to organized crime.  Officials noted foreign “posted workers,” hired by temporary agencies and placed in Estonian companies, and their family members are especially vulnerable to trafficking.  As a result of the Lukashenka regime facilitating irregular migration flows, migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia transiting Estonia remain vulnerable to trafficking.  Thousands of foreign nationals and Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children, who are fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine and seeking sanctuary, are highly vulnerable to trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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