Policy Brief: Sex Trafficking in Moldova
Moldova is the largest source of sex-slavery related human trafficking in Europe. The Global Slavery Index ranks Moldova as being the sixth country in the world with the highest prevalence of modern slavery, underneath Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. In Moldova, many women are routinely kidnapped from rural villages or promised legitimate employment, led legally or illegally to foreign countries, and then forced into sexual slavery. To a lesser extent, Moldova is also a transit and destination country for sex trafficking. Although the Moldovan government has made great progress in recent years through partnering with NGOs and taking into account international recommendation in improving victim protection and rehabilitation, as well as prevention, government corruption and a weak judiciary prevents sufficient punishment of well-connected offenders, many of whom go on to retaliate against witnesses and victims.
How/what should the European Union assist and pressure Moldova on, in terms of solving the human trafficking problem?
The Roots of Moldovan Human Trafficking:
Moldova's human trafficking problem stems from its poverty woes. The Moldovan economy is primarily centered around its farmland, particularly in terms of its wineries and tobacco growth. 23% of its GDP comes from abroad as remittances, both in illegitimate and legitimate labor. Those seeking legitimate employment abroad make up the largest portion of those forced into labor, sex slavery, and begging. Only around 10% are directly kidnapped. The story is typically similar – upon arrival to the target destination, the traffickers hold the victim against their will and take their passport. The victim is then receives personal threats of violence, along with the threat of violence against their family. Seeking help is further complicated due to a language barrier and a lack of knowledge about victim assistance. Even when assistance is granted, often times the victims are retaliated against upon return to Moldova. While forced labor makes up the largest portion of known trafficking, sexual-slavery is usually directed to Turkey, the Middle East, and some specific EU countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Trafficking with its roots in the breakaway region of Transnistria is difficult to gauge and outside of the realistic scope of enforcement of the Moldovan government. In Transnistria, NGOs arguably wield more power over combating human trafficking than the Transnistrian government or the Moldovan government.
According to a variety of reports, 90% of the victims are women, with 80% younger than 25. Children make up 14% of the victims, and this has been increasing over time. It should be noted that statistics do not always differentiate between whether the human trafficking was for the purposes of forced labor or sexual slavery, which may leave a significant margin of error.
79% of recruitment occurs through false job offers. 30% of recruiters are foreigners, and data shows that in recent years women have been used as recruiters to bolster the apparent legitimacy of the operation. 29% of victims are trafficked into Turkey, and 28% into Russia. The duration of exploitation has been shrinking in recent years. Some estimates put the most recent average duration of exploitation at 3 months.
Statement of Interest:
The European Union has a vested interest in international law, especially with regard to human rights. As many Moldovans are trafficked into European Union countries, the EU has both some responsibility and potential for success in dealing with the source of the problem. Human trafficking is a problem directly associated with development, and tackling this issue will not only help the victims of human trafficking but also bolster Moldovan development. In addition, Moldova is friendly to the EU, and has been on the path for membership. The Moldovan government has responded to international pressure after more than a decade of neglecting the problem of human trafficking, and has ratified many – but not all – relevant treaties dedicated to preventing human trafficking.
a) NGO Activities:
Support for victims of trafficking has been primarily provided by foreign-donor funded NGOs and international organizations. One of the largest such groups within Moldova itself is La Strada, which started activity in 2001 as the trafficking problem was becoming more well known. The Moldovan government has involved NGOs in an effort at reformation and solving the problem of trafficking, recognizing the significant expertise and capabilities that NGOs wield in the matter. While NGOs have had success in drawing attention to the problem as well as assisting victims, ultimately their acts are primarily responsive – rather than preventive.
La Strada and other NGOs have operated temporary shelters for victims of trafficking, with more long-term solutions for child victims. Additionally, NGOs have launched education campaigns in collaboration with the Moldovan government to educate people on how to avoid becoming a victim of trafficking. NGOs also typically keep the best statistics on trafficking, given the lack of an effective national trafficking statistics database.
NGOs are a very effective policy tool, not only in Moldova, but much of the post Soviet world. With foreign funding and separation from the issues that plague governments, their influence is not bound to the same preconditions as a government program would be. Although this at times causes tension between governments and NGOs, such as fears of foreign influence, Moldova's (mostly) westward-orientation seems to keep this in check in the country. Even in Transnistria, when it comes to certain issues such as human trafficking, the local government is fairly cooperative. Unfortunately, NGOs outside of Moldova in transit and destination countries have struggled with dealing with victims of human trafficking, especially in regards to funds.
b) National Referral System
The National Referral System for Assistance and Protection of Victims and Potential Victims of Trafficking, or NRS, is a system put in place by the Moldovan government in 2009. It is one of the most important preventative and reactive measures that has been undertaken in Moldova, and is widely hailed as a model for the region. The system provides direct assistance and education for those deemed “at risk”, refers victims to specialists and specialized services for rehabilitation, and to facilitate interaction between victims and law enforcement.
The NRS works in tandem with NGOs such as La Strada and Interaction, hosting toll-free 24/7 hotlines in Transnistria and Moldova to provide information about migration and preventing trafficking, as well as for “SOS calls” from victims. The NRS' approach has been described as “proactive prevention”, and makes use of a wide network of different teams of police, social workers, doctors, and lawyers.
The NRS has been criticized for not having uniform effectiveness in certain regions, particularly Transnistria. However, this should come as no surprise. As well, despite a dramatic increase in prosecutions of offenders and an increased willingness of victims to come forward, there have been comparatively few convictions.
Moldova has not ratified all relevant treaties to trafficking, particularly the Slavery Convention, the Supplementary Slavery Convention, nor the Domestic Work Convention. However, slavery is prohibited by the Moldovan constitution; the ratification of these treaties may have little to no realistic effect, rather than being an affirmative statement against modern slavery.
Despite its prohibition by the Moldovan constitution, Moldova did not have laws relevant to human trafficking in particular before the year 2000. The few cases there were investigated were prosecuted under pimping regulations and received fairly light sentences. It was only after signing – but not yet ratifying – the Palermo Protocol, or the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially “Women and Children” that the laws were amended. To date, Moldova still does not meet the minimum standards of anti trafficking.
However, Moldova has been particularly responsive to adopting reforms pursuant to EU standards after the international community recognized the growing problem at the turn of the twentieth century. Even the NRS itself was formed not only with NGO assistance, but with the assistance of the European Commission, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the International Organization for Migration.
b) Judicial Reform:
Government indifference to enforcement of existing laws has let many of the worst offenders operate without punishment. Moldova does not comply with minimum anti-trafficking standards, though as of recent years given international pressure they have undertaken significant reforms. Most actions, like those of NGOs, however, are reactive – aimed at helping victims reintegrate and preventing retribution, but neither preventive nor punitive against offenders.
Although there have been significant efforts at prosecuting offenders in recent years, investigations into corrupt government officials are usually a dead-end and no government officials have been convicted as of this brief. Most analyses state that this is a result of a weak and inefficient judiciary.
For example, a mere 22 trafficking offenders were convicted in 2011, despite 135 investigations and 79 prosecutions. Of these 22 convictions, 12 spent no time in jail, with only paying fines or serving suspended sentences – a violation of Moldova's own mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking. Many later had their convictions overturned, without a written explanation of why by the appeals courts.
The judiciary's problems are not limited to human trafficking. A report by the International Commission of Jurists and the Soros Foundation-Moldova noted in 2011 that the government had drafted proposals as well as considerations for reform, they have yet to be implemented.
Destination Country Protection
Rather than focus on further Moldovan reforms, protect victims of trafficking in EU member destination countries. Investigate trafficking rings and offer amnesty for victims of trafficking for illegal activity done under duress. Work with victims to investigate the local operation of trafficking rings.
- Within EU member states. Existing system infrastructure can easily be utilized to protect victims and punish offenders.
- Moldovan cooperation. Using NRS resources back in Moldova, Moldovan embassies and consulates can coordinate assistance for victims found in EU states.
- Asylum is not likely to resolve the problem and is not popular. While there are known cases of women who were granted asylum and became participants within their new homes, it is an expensive program and was previously funded by foreign donors to NGOs in EU member states. With Moldova improving their victim support systems, there is a wide feeling that getting victims back safely to, and safely within, Moldova is more effective.
- Expense. Starting direct programs for treatment of particularly Moldovan victims of human trafficking is costly and not likely to be popularly supported.
- Although these efforts may curb local demand for prostitution, EU member states like Greece and Germany have legalized prostitution. Furthermore, EU countries do not make up the entirety of destination countries for Moldovan trafficking victims. Stemming the flow in one place may simply redirect the destination.
- Instead of coordinating efforts primarily in one country, this would involve many different infrastructures.
- NGOs like the Poppy Project in Britain struggle with funding and are not as effective as NGOs operating within Moldova.
- Ultimately, this option is the least intersectional with greater Moldovan development.
Take no greater measures than maintaining current pressure. Although Moldova may have failed to meet certain expectations, they have made significant progress. The human trafficking problem will be increasingly alleviated through greater Moldovan development. Further pressure may backfire, especially if the Eurasian Customs Union looks more attractive.
- This is not a politically risky proposition. It continues the already implemented plans and recommendations for Moldovan development.
- No major increased costs.
- The lack of efficiency within the judiciary is not only morally unacceptable but destabilizing for the region. The status quo is not likely to resolve this.
- The problem may get better in the long term, but victimization is occurring now.
Further Judicial Reform
Firmly demand drastic measures of judicial reform. Moldova must continue its path of reform to meet international standards against human trafficking, along with ensuring that offenders are sentenced under the mandatory minimum sentences. Judicial reform is one of the key reforms that Moldova has been lacking on in recent years; although they have shown a willingness to listen, the progress is not sufficient. The judiciary must be monitored given the wide-spread corruption and how many trafficking cases drag out for years in the appeals process, giving ample time for them to simply “fade away” through bribery. A separate special court for trafficking may be considered.
- Judicial reform is likely to be a significant deterrent to traffickers. As it stands, there is little faith in the Moldovan justice system when it comes to trafficking, due to widespread corruption and a lack of convictions. Even with resulting convictions, the sentences are lax or the convictions may even be overturned on appeal.
- Transnistrian authorities have shown some willingness to participate in Moldovan trials with regard to trafficking.
- Moldova has previously shown willingness to respond to international pressure to establish and subsequently strengthen its laws. This may follow that they will strengthen enforcement.
- Strengthening the judiciary will have more far reaching effects in terms of enforcing law and order beyond human trafficking.
- Moldova's problem with its judiciary and corruption is not limited to trafficking. Thus, tackling the problem is a significant effort, perhaps independent of a focus on trafficking alone.
- Establishing a special court system would be fairly expensive. This could be alleviated through involving NGOs with monitoring the judiciary.
Work diplomatically with Moldova to institute dramatic judicial reforms. Continue the support of Moldova's other anti-trafficking elements, as well as Moldovan NGOs, but stress that the issue of a weak judiciary goes well beyond the human trafficking problem. Ultimately, human trafficking will be alleviated as Moldovan development continues, particularly economically – but one of the most influential and far-reaching programs would be a reformation of the judiciary.
Although events in 2012 and 2013 cast doubt on whether Moldova would continue its EU path, the post-Maidan, post-Crimea situation seems to have reinvigorated the movement. As such, the Moldovan government should once again be willing to listen to what the EU has to say, especially if aid and agreements have particular strings attached.
Ultimately it is perhaps most pragmatic to solve “one problem at a time”, but trafficking is a complex issue with roots in multiple spheres, as has been shown. Still, ensuring that there is justice for victims is perhaps the most pressing matter both for the victims' security and to prevent further victimization in the future.
“2012 Trafficking in Persons Report – Moldova.” United States Department of State. 19 June 2012. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30cabc.html>. 5 Apr. 2014. | This is a report on Moldovan human trafficking by the US government that details the successes and failures of the NRS as well as provides regional statistics. It details how the government has been funding victim shelters, but also points out the incredibly inefficient judiciary.
Ganta, Vladimir. “Human Trafficking in Moldova.” CARIM East – Consortium for Applied Research on International Migration. 2013. <http://www.carim-east.eu/media/exno/Explanatory%20Notes_2013-56.pdf>. 5 Apr. 2014. | Primarily an explanatory summary of other more detailed reports, but it also gives detailed information on La Strada and is my primary source on statistics.
Gentleman, Amelia. “Katya's Story: Trafficked to the UK, Sent Home to Torture.” The Guardian. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/apr/19/sex-trafficking-uk-legal-reform>. 5 April. 2014. | Another fairly short article, but it gives graphic detail on the plight of one particular trafficking victim, along with the difficulties of dealing with victims discovered abroad.
Ghimpu, Viorica, Viorica Zaharia and Natalia Porubin. “Action Against Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence in Moldova.” United Nations Population Fund, Moldova. 2011. <https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/HSU/Outreach/Moldova/063/Public%20Report%20Moldova.pdf>. 5 Apr. 2014. | This UN report primarily focuses on the background of human trafficking in terms of how vulnerable women come from abusive households, as well as the problem of domestic violence in Moldova. However, in provides statistics on victim rehabilitation as well as critiques of the judiciary and legislature.
“Global Slavery Index 2013: Moldova.” Global Slavery Index. 2013. <http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/country/moldova/>. 5 Apr. 2014. | My most used source. The report neatly summarizes important statistics of judicial inefficiency and corruption, as well as strong background information on the history and timeline of the problem and attempted reforms.
“Reforming the Judiciary in Moldova: Prospects and Challenges.” International Commission of Jurists. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/530efeb74.html>. 4 Apr. 2014. | The Soros Foundation-Moldova and ICJ worked together on this report to detail the lack of independence within the judiciary.
Tomiuc, Eugen. “Moldova: Young Women From Rural Areas Vulnerable to Human Trafficking.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 6 Oct. 2004. <http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1055188.html>. 5 Apr. 2014. | This is a fairly small news report on RFERL's website that gives information on La Strada as well as the personal stories of a few victims of trafficking, as well as the destination countries of victims and the reforms being made at the time. As it is an older article, it shows a very early approach to the Moldovan situation.