2 - chapter

Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

Authors: Anni Säär, Merlyn Helen Kaurit

Article 4 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms prohibits slavery and forced labour. Here the meaning of slavery does not include just the historic meaning of the term, but is a wider concept, which includes trafficking in human beings.

Trafficking in human beings is a criminal offence and constitutes a severe breach of human rights. The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which came into force in Estonia 1 June 2015, defines trafficking in human beings as recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation also includes forced prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or practices similar to slavery, or removal of organs.[1]

Trafficking in human beings is a problem in Estonia as Estonia is the country of origin, transit as well as destination for the purpose of sexual exploitation of women. Additionally, people of Estonian origin are subjugated to forced labour in this country, elsewhere in Europe as well as in Australia. Labour is mainly exploited in construction work, cleaning works and in social welfare sectors and seasonal work.[2]

Political and institutional developments

In years 2016–2017 Estonia continued implementing “Strategy for Preventing Violence for 2015–2020”, which sets combating of trafficking in human beings as one of its priorities. In the period of development, the monitoring system for employment mediators and employers will be amended, the purpose of which is to protect employees from employment mediators who breach requirements set in acts of law, and discover cases of trafficking in human beings on control visits, guaranteeing a more efficient detection of violations than before.[3]   

In November of 2016 Estonia ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual abuse or the so-called Lanzarote Convention. The purpose of the convention is to combat sexual crime against children, harmonise child-friendly procedural practices and improve the quality of social services. Even though Estonia was already acting in accordance with the convention, it requires continued effort from social, health, education as well as justice spheres, as the central principle of the convention in protecting children is the integration of various spheres.[4] Therefore, ratification of the Lanzarote Convention has been an essential step forward in combating trafficking of children and young people.

In September of 2017 the Riigikogu ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, by a large majority. The Istanbul Convention is the broadest international agreement on combating violence against women and domestic violence, creating a framework for protecting and helping the victims. The convention also prioritises prevention of violence against women and awareness-raising. To that end the states parties to the convention are obliged to regularly carry out publicity campaigns and training, compile training materials, offer support and counselling services, etc.[5] Becoming a party to the convention is an important achievement because unlike legislation regarding protection of children, protection of women in Estonia was previously severely lacking.

Legislative developments

Amendments to legislation regarding trafficking in human beings in the past years have had to do with adopting the EU Victims Directive into Estonian law in 2015 and Estonia becoming party to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention). In order to meet the criteria of the EU Directive providing stronger protection to victims of crime than before and to become a party to the Istanbul Convention Estonian law was brought into accordance with the appropriate requirements. Essential amendments were made to the Victim Support Act and the Penal Code to achieve this.

The entry into force of the amendment to the Victim Support Act in January of 2017 guarantees the victims of trafficking in human beings, sexual abuse and violence against women a better access to services (for example, counselling for victims, safe accommodation and catering, psychological help, interpretation services).[6] An important development is the amendment to the act of law, which results in not just those persons being treated as victims of trafficking in human beings regarding whom criminal proceedings have been initiated according to the Penal Code, but from now on the victim of trafficking in human beings is also the person, who the organisation helping victims of trafficking in human beings in Estonia or abroad has pre-established as a victim and submitted the Estonian National Social Insurance Board a notice stating that. Therefore, the amendment guarantees victims access to victim support services also without submitting the report of criminal offence and provides help to more people. In addition, the amendment allows victims to receive help not just during the criminal proceedings, but also before, which in turn makes prosecuting criminals more efficient.[7]

The amendment to the Victim Support Act also established in the law a new service of the women’s support centre for victims of violence against women, which had previously been unregulated. The act states clear requirements for the service that contains both safe accommodation as well as counselling service. The amendment allows for better assessment of the service’s quality, to guarantee a continuous state funding for the service and to gather reliable statistics, which helps organise the sphere of victim support.[8]

In June of 2017 the amendment to the Penal Come came into force that made buying sex from a victim of trafficking in human beings punishable.[9] According to the previous law the punishable acts had been buying sex from a minor, pimping and aiding prostitution.

Court practice

According to the criminal policy study published by the Ministry of Justice in 2017 court judgments in 16 criminal offences related to trafficking in human beings entered into force in 2016, whereby 29 persons were convicted, 7 of them women and 2 of them legal persons. 11 persons were convicted of trafficking in human beings (Penal Code § 133), 7 persons and 2 legal persons were convicted of pimping (Penal Code 133²), 1 person of supporting trafficking in human beings (Penal Code § 133¹) and 8 persons were convicted of human trafficking in order to take advantage of minors (Penal Code § 175).

In 2016 a total of 11 persons who had been involved with transporting Vietnamese persons into the European Union illegally were convicted of criminal offences of trafficking in human beings in three separate court cases. Generally, the convicted were imposed for trafficking in human beings and other criminal offences an aggregate punishment of imprisonment of six months to four years which was usually not enforced to the full extent. Four persons were imposed a supplementary punishment of expulsion with a prohibition on entry of three or five years. A suitable example here is the criminal case no 1-15-7510,[10] where the court convicted the persons participating in the international chain for trafficking in human beings. The accused illegally transported Vietnamese citizens, among them minors, across the temporary border line of the Republic of Estonia in 2014 and 2015. Taking advantage of the vulnerable state of the Vietnamese persons the accused forced the victims to work at unusual conditions and on several occasions held them in unsanitary conditions.

The person convicted of supporting trafficking in human beings (Penal Code § 133¹) had also been involved with illegally transporting Vietnamese persons across the border – he was imposed an aggregate punishment of three years’ imprisonment, one year of which was to be served immediately.

The punishments imposed on the 7 persons convicted of pimping (§ 133²) in 2016 remained in the range of 3 to 4.5 years with period of probation under monitoring of probation supervisor, only 2 were served an actual imprisonment. Each legal person was imposed a fine of 20,000 euros, which will also not be enforced if a three-year probation is successfully passed. Additionally, three criminals were confiscated assets in total value of 278,754 euros from their homes and companies.

Prison sentences served for human trafficking in order to take advantage of minors (§ 175) were in the range of one year and four months to five years. An actual imprisonment was enforced to full extent for those criminals who had not served a previous penalty; otherwise they were served a conditional sentence with 2 to 5 years of probation. The punishments contained in some instances also the obligation to take part in a social programme during probation supervision, complete a treatment programme of sexual deviation on their own expense or visit a sex therapist / psychiatrist. Generally, it was forbidden to communicate with minors during the period of probation, this included underage relatives. In one case a 16-year-old male pimped his 17-year-old girlfriend – he was sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment, 8 months of which were to be served immediately (criminal case no 1-16-2632[11]).

The case of Assar Paulus and his criminal organisation, which garnered a lot of public attention can also be pointed out as one of the important court cases in the past years. There Andres Vaik and Rainar Soo stood accused of trafficking in human beings. In the case no 1-16-6717/7[12] Harju County Court convicted Assar Paulus of organising a criminal organisation and repeated extortion with the organisation and sentenced him to 7 years of imprisonment; the process of Andres Vaik and Rainar Soo, who are accused of slavery, has not yet been solved. According to the charge Soo and Vaik kept a male person who was forced to work for them at the threat of violence and without monetary compensation from 1996 to 2014.[13]

Ministry of Justice will publish the statistical evaluation of court decisions in 2018. Nevertheless, it is possible to pick out the remarkable court cases of 2017 based on press coverage.

In June of 2017 the court judgment of Viru County Court’s Narva courthouse came into force where the criminal organisation smuggling Vietnamese persons was convicted. According to the accusations the criminal organisation lead by Igor Aleynikov transported a total of 51 Vietnamese persons from Russia to Estonia in 2015 and 2016. The court sentenced Aleynikov with 5 years of imprisonment as a result of an agreement process, the punishments for the other accused ranged from 5 months to 4 years, some of which will actually have to be served, some will not be enforced. Additionally, financial and personal assets earned by criminal means were confiscated.[14]

In September of 2017 Estonian media covered a case, where Pärnu police officers managed to save a man with mobility disability, who had been imprisoned by Moldavian citizens. The victim had been forced to beg against his will, regardless of the weather or his health, and the earned money was appropriated. The criminals moved from town to town, knowingly hiding their trail. Pärnu County Court convicted Nina Ibrian and Octavian Birsan of trafficking in human beings and sentenced the woman with three years of imprisonment and the man with five, both of them have to serve one year. The rest of the punishment will not be enforced if they do not commit another crime during the period of probation. The convicted offenders will lose the appropriated money, the court also ordered they pay 20,000 euros of criminal proceeds and nearly 9000 euros for civil action in favour of the victim. The two Moldavians will be expelled from the state after being released from prison with a prohibition on entry of ten years.[15]

 Statistics and surveys

According to the criminal policy study[16] published in 2017 there were 94 criminal offences related to trafficking in human beings in 2016, which was nine more than in 2015. In 2016 criminal offences related to trafficking in human beings took place in 12 counties, except in Hiiumaa, Läänemaa and Põlvamaa. 15 criminal offences involving transporting aliens illegally across the border were also registered in 2016.

In the past two years the most common crime is human trafficking in order to take advantage of minors (63 in 2015; 59 in 2016). Statistics for this type of crime in the last year show that many repeat offences have been committed by the same people against the same victims. In 2015 as well as in 2016 most of the instances of taking advantage of minors were committed via online environments and other social networks (for example, Snapchat, VKontakte) using a webcam and various user accounts and names.

In 2016 the number of criminal offences registered under the trafficking in human beings section rose significantly in comparison to 2015: in 2015 there were 4 registered criminal offences of trafficking in human beings, in 2016 the corresponding figure was 15. On 9 occasions they were criminal offences of an international scale, which were committed by criminal organisations in Estonia, who worked with other criminals from the EU and Russia in order to illegally transport Vietnamese persons from Russia into the European Union. The role of Estonian criminals was getting Vietnamese persons across the border and transporting them using navigation devices and radio transmitters.

The criminal policy study shows that the number of criminal offences of pimping (Penal Code § 133²) has not changed much in recent years (17 in 2015; 19 in 2016). Twelve criminal offences committed by the same persons took place in 2016. Half of the criminal offences of pimping took place in Narva (10), followed by Tallinn (6), with a few in Pärnumaa (2) and Viljandimaa (1). Tallinn stood out in that the pimps did not just operate as private persons, but had created companies for that purpose. In Tallinn saunas and massage parlours were used as brothels, but in Narva persons were influenced to take up prostitution via e-mail and personal meetings.

In 2016 there was one instance of labour exploitation, where the person was escorted to the place of work and threatened in case of escape. In 2015 there were two instances: in one the employees were made to work in inhuman conditions, in the other a person was forced to work for another at home as well as place of work.

The Ministry of Justice will publish the state of trafficking in human beings in Estonia for 2017 in its 2018 criminal policy study.

Good practices

In February of 2017 the state of Estonia initiated the social campaign 1ELU combating trafficking in human beings; the goal of which was to inform victims of trafficking in human beings and the persons close to them and encouraging them to report the occurred instances. The project that lasted until the summer of 2017 focused on prevention of labour and sexual exploitation, and prevention of abuse of children for criminal purposes. Video clips explaining cases regarding trafficking in human beings were prepared, and awareness-raising in schools was carried out in the course of the campaign. The project was the result of cooperation between the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the NGO Living for Tomorrow, the Estonian Human Rights Centre and the ad agency Idea.

In December of 2016 concluded a two-year transnational project HESTIA – “Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution”, the goal of which was to study the correlations between human trafficking and sham marriages and initiate extensive preventative action. In the course of the project a comprehensive research was conducted, national round tables were organised and a diverse group of experts was called together to discuss the extent of the problem on a national level. The outcome of the research was also used to put together training materials aimed at professionals working with persons vulnerable to human trafficking; a number of training sessions were carried out in partner states to the project. Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and Finland took part in HESTIA. The project was coordinated by the Latvian Ministry of Interior Affairs in cooperation with the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) in Finland, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the NGO Caritas Lithuania, NGO Living for Tomorrow in Estonia, the NGO Patvērums „Drošā māja” in Latvia and the Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic. Sham marriages of different types were discovered in all five states, as well as exploitation stemming from them. Some of the detected instances included very clear traits of force, coercion, deceit and exploitation, and some of the instances were very clearly defined as trafficking in human beings.[17]

In 2016–2017 several NGOs continued their work helping victims of trafficking in human beings and persons close to them, as well as preventative work. The NGO Living for Tomorrow provides a free service – a counselling hotline ( +372 6607 320) for prevention of trafficking in human beings and its victims since 2004. In 2016 the NGO Living for Tomorrow also organised in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs lectures on the topic of trafficking in human beings for students studying at vocational educational institutions. The NGO Eluliin (+372 655 6140) also continued providing psychological, legal and social counselling services as well as the opportunity of a shelter.


According to the NGO Living for Tomorrow, which offers support services to victims of trafficking in human beings and the persons close to them the recent trends are exploitative sham marriages with citizens from third countries in various EU Member States (mainly in Ireland, the UK and Cyprus) and abuse/exploitation of workers from third countries in Estonia (mainly in seasonal work, construction work and agriculture). Movement of prostitution to apartments as the result of closure of brothels is also a topical issue, as is inclusion of minors in prostitution, where demand has been pointed out as an issue.


  • Increase preventative work on trafficking in human beings on regional level.
  • Make protection of Estonian citizen as well as alien workers’ rights more efficient
  • Pay attention to guaranteeing victims’ rights in proceedings.
  • Increase training offered to investigators and prosecutors regarding application of section 133 and on working with witnesses giving statements in court.
  • Encourage the police and Labour Inspectorate to investigate trafficking in human beings in employment relationships, including recruiters who commit deceit.



[1] Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/aktilisa/2231/2201/4002/inimkaub_Engl.pdf#

[2] U.S Department of State. Trafficking in Persons 2016 Report: Country Narratives.

Available at: https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2016/258764.htm

[3] Strategy for Preventing Violence [Vägivalla ennetamise strateegia aastateks 2015-2020]. Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/krimipoliitika/files/elfinder/dokumendid/strategy_for_preventing_violence_for_2015-2020.pdf

[4] Estonian Forensic Science Institute. August 2016. Eesti ühineb lapsi seksuaalse ärakasutamise ja kuritarvitamise eest kaitsva konventsiooniga [Estonia to join the convention protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse]. Available at:


[5] Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Available at: https://rm.coe.int/168008482e

[6] Ohvriabi seaduse muutmise seadus [The Act that amends the Victim Support Act]. Available at:  https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/104112016002

[7] Riigikogu Press Service. October 2016. Riigikogu kiitis heaks ohvriabi seaduse muudatused [Riigikogu authorized the amendments to the Victim Support Act]. Available at: https://www.riigikogu.ee/pressiteated/sotsiaalkomisjon-et-et/riigikogu-kiitis-heaks-ohvriabi-seaduse-muudatused/

[8] Riigikogu Press Service. October 2016. Riigikogu kiitis heaks ohvriabi seaduse muudatused [Riigikogu authorized the amendments to the Victim Support Act]. Available at: https://www.riigikogu.ee/pressiteated/sotsiaalkomisjon-et-et/riigikogu-kiitis-heaks-ohvriabi-seaduse-muudatused/

[9] Karistusseadustiku muutmise ja sellega seonduvalt teiste seaduste muutmise seadus [The act that amends the Penal Code and other associated acts]. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/126062017069

[10] Criminal case no 1-15-7510. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/kohtulahendid/detailid.html?id=177997887

[11] Criminal case no 1-16-2632. Available at:


[12] Criminal case no 1-16-6717/7. Available at:


[13] Prokurör: meil on kuritegelikule maailmale selge sõnum [The prosecutor: we have a clear message to the criminal world]. Äripäev. 11.05.2015. Available at:


[14] Kohus mõistis vietnamlasi smugeldanud maffiagrupi süüdi [The court convicted the mafia group smuggling Vietnamese people]. Postimees. June 2017. Available at:: http://www.postimees.ee/4140311/kohus-moistis-vietnamlasi-smugeldanud-maffiagrupi-suudi


[15] Martin Laine. Jalutu ori avastati Pärnu kaubanduskeskuse eest [A legless slave discovered in front of Pärnu shopping centre]. Pärnu Postimees. September 2017. Available at: http://parnu.postimees.ee/4238299/jalutu-ori-avastati-parnu-kaubanduskeskuse-eest

[16] Ministry of Justice. April 2017. Kuritegevus Eestis 2016 [Crime in Estonia 2016].  Inimkaubandus [Trafficking in human beings]. Anu Leps. Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/krimipoliitika/files/elfinder/dokumendid/kuritegevus_eestis_est_web_0.pdf

[17] Minna Viuhko, Anni Lietonen, Anniina Jokinen. Ja nad elasid õnnelikult kuni oma elupäevade lõpuni? Fiktiivsetest abieludest inimkaubanduseni, Projekt „Inimkaubanduse ja fiktiivsete abielude ennetamine: multidistsiplinaarne lahendus” (HESTIA) [And they lived happily ever after? From sham marriages to human trafficking. Project: Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution”]. 2017. Available at: http://lft.ee/admin/upload/files/HESTIA%20report%20final%20EST.pdf


  • Anni Säär alustas Eesti Inimõiguste Keskuses tööd praktikandina 2011. aasta septembris. Alates 2012 kuni 2917 töötas Anni keskuses pagulasvaldkonna õiguseksperdina. Lisaks annab Anni Tallinna Tehnikaülikoolis loengut „Internetis toimijate õigused, kohustused ja vastutus“. Annil on magistrikraad õigusteaduses.

  • Merlyn Helen Kaurit on omandamas magistrikraadi rahvusvahelise õiguse valdkonnas Panthéon-Assas ülikoolis Pariisis. Magistriõpingutes keskendub Merlyn nii rahvusvahelisele era- kui ka avalikule õigusele ning huvitub inimõigustest ja keskonnaõigusest. Merlyni huvi inimõiguste valdkonna vastu sai alguse bakalauruseõppes uurimustööd kirjutades ning Pariisis Jacques Rougerie jätkusuutliku arengu sihtasutuses töötades. Inimõiguste Keskuse töösse on Merlyn panustanud vabatahtlikuna.