Merle Albrant

Even though slavery and forced labour are prohibited they still exist in the modern world in a clandestine form in areas, which are not instantly thought to be associated with this topic. Human trafficking is one of the forms of modern slavery. One of the most significant developments in this area in 2011 took place in legislation – a draft act on human trafficking was drafted.

Political and institutional developments

The Ministry of Justice has drawn up a development plan for reducing violence for years 2010–2014, which has as one of its objectives the intent of preventing and decreasing human trafficking.  A report on the execution of the first year of the development plan was published in 2011, which provided an overview of the fulfilment of goals set in the development plan.[1]
According to the report the main attention in the human trafficking field in 2010 was concentrated on charting the situation of forced labour and exploitation of labour as well as on training the specialists who come into contact with human trafficking. In several instances supranational research groups have been set up to tackle proceedings of human trafficking cases in cross-border cases.  In addition the Ministry of Social Affairs in association with the NGO Omapäi started work on drawing up a guardianship system for children without escort who have been trafficked: the current situation was mapped out, a more detailed guardians’ professional profile and a description of duties was drawn up, potential guardians were sought out and gathered, training materials were prepared.

Legislative developments

The most remarkable development in 2011 took place in legislation – the draft act criminalising human trafficking was drawn up, which will be incorporated into the Penal Code. Necessary elements of an offence of human trafficking carried out for various purposes will be included. Riigikogu will hopefully approve these amendments in 2012. The draft act amending the Penal Code will change the wording of the necessary elements of the offence and add additional necessary elements carried out for various purposes. The new wording of section 133 of the Penal Code prescribes the necessary elements of an offence for enslaving, which entails these forms: 1) placing a human being in enslavement; 2) placing a human being in a situation where he or she is forced to work or to provide a service, engage in prostitution or in other activities enabling sexual abuse, carry out other degrading tasks or to commit a crime; 3) keeping a human being in one of the aforementioned situations; selling or buying a human being.

The Penal Code will be amended with a new provision – section 133² – which prescribes a punishment for acts, which have been committed for the purpose of enslaving a human being if there are no necessary elements of an offence or the purpose of sexual abuse present. The different types of enslaving a human being are the following: 1) recruitment, 2) transportation, 3) transfer, 4) sending, 5) receipt, 6) harbouring, 7) provision of premises.
The act must be committed through deprivation of liberty, violence or deceit, through abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or some other inescapable situation, or by giving or receiving payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person. The amendments should bring the Penal Code into accordance with the requirements of the international law, including the obligation of criminalisation of all types of human trafficking within the national law. Such requirements stem from the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (Article 18), EU Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA of 19 July 2002, Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.[2] The new draft act is a huge step forward in the development of Estonian legislation regarding helping the victims of human trafficking and in providing the victims a legislative protection; particularly because the necessary elements of an offence of human trafficking no longer require proof of the lack of will or intent on the part of the victims. The Minister of Justice also emphasised that: “such an amendment means that in order to charge someone with the offence of human trafficking the requirement of proof that the victim did not agree to carrying out of the crime is not needed, thereby precluding situations where the accused could produce a weighty contract in court, which would then mean the victim agreed to his or her exploitation.”[3] In addition, the amendment to the Penal Code will facilitate gathering statistics about human trafficking. The current legislation lacks the necessary elements of an offence of human trafficking, which makes it difficult to get an overview of the cases and victims of human trafficking. The ratification of the draft in Riigikogu should statistically provide an adequate overview of cases related to human trafficking, if these cases are being proceeded and proceeded according to the necessary elements of an offence described in the draft act. This, in turn, will help provide an overview of the situation of human trafficking in Estonia, its victims and their needs.

Court practice

The 15th survey on criminal policy was published in 2011.[4] It stems from the publication that in 2010 four criminal groups involved with illegally transporting persons cross borders or with aiding prostitution were put on trial. In 2010 four persons were convicted of enslaving and were given a prison sentence of 1–3½ years; one of them served the sentence, the others were given a conditional sentence with a probationary period of 1–4½ years. All of these enslavement cases involved aiding prostitution by means of violence and coercion; the victims were women, some of them underage. For instance the court case no 1-07-8975, where “ten persons were given a conditional sentence of up to 2 years and 7 months for aiding prostitution at a bordello at the address: Tedre 3. The persons aiding prostitution were men in their forties who carried out various jobs in the course of keeping a bordello, for example: doorman, barman-administrator, driver, executive director. The barmen-administrators usually organised making payments to the girls and the taxi drivers as well as taking money from clients. Most of the people who were convicted had been active in the establishment for a year and had aided prostitution of at least eight women.” A total of 26 persons were convicted for aiding prostitution in 2010, three of them were also convicted for enslaving.

The daily paper Eesti Päevaleht covered a case concerning human trafficking at lengths – “The enslaved woman of Lasnamäe”, which also ended up in court.[5] A man rented out a mentally disabled woman who had come from a children’s home as a prostitute, took the woman’s money (including the bank card) and didn’t allow her to leave the apartment by herself. Having been caught at aiding prostitution, the man registered marriage with the woman to escape the charge. The situation had been known to the social welfare department of Lasnamäe for a year, but they did not see it as a problem. The social workers deemed things to be in order in that particular family. The criminal case made it into court in March of 2011, but the exact nature of the charge, whether it was aiding prostitution, enslaving or something else, is not known to the author of this article. Neither is there information as to whether the proceedings have been concluded. The article in the newspaper motivated the Ministry of Social Affairs to summon the representatives of Harju County Government and Tallinn Social and Health Board to discuss the case.[6]

The human trafficking cases do not involve only the sexual exploitation of women. There is an abundance of cases, where the victims of employers’ exploitation are men who have gone to work in a foreign country. The court practice provides an example of five Russian speaking men from Estonia, who went to work at a building site in Ukraine. In Ukraine they were exploited by the employer: they had to live in a trailer on site with no hot water or a water closet. They also had to work overtime, including in the weekends, as well as for no pay. They filed a complaint, but due to cross-border problems with proceedings with Ukraine the case was closed. Because exploitation took place in Ukraine and the person exploiting them was a Ukrainian citizen the case could not be proceeded by Estonia without the permission of Ukrainian authorities.[7]

Statistics and surveys

In 2011 a final report on labour exploitation was published, which had been drawn up as a pilot project in cooperation with Tartu University, Warsaw University and HEUNI. It covered the situation in three states: Finland, Poland and Estonia.[8] The report uncovered that in human trafficking, especially in the forced prostitution of women (but also in forced labour of men and women) Estonia is rather the source country and to a lesser extent the destination country.
Men and women have ended up in forced labour in Spain, Norway and Finland.[9] The risk of ending up in labour exploitation or in forced labour, based on statistics and the low point of the labour market, is considered to be very high. Already in 2008 the number of Estonian citizens with a permanent contract of employment in a foreign country was 10,000–15,000. The main reason for leaving was economic, mostly lack of jobs. A separate risk group is made up of the long term unemployed, who are usually either younger or older workers. They are even more vulnerable to the offers of human traffickers than those of low social standing, low level of education who have been unemployed for a short time.
The United States’ annual report on trafficking in persons has dropped Estonia’s category to tier 2, which means that the Government of Estonia “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.”[10] Estonia’s category was reduced because Estonia had not indicated the will to undertake necessary legislative amendments, there is no specific law on human trafficking and the current law does not prohibit or adequately penalise all forms of human trafficking, including the transportation, aiding, use of coercion etc.

In 2011 the Ministry of Justice published “Survey of criminal policy 15”, which pointed out that there have been 15 registered cases of enslaving in Estonia in the past 8 years, one or two cases on average per year.[11] The enslaving cases might have constituted human trafficking in most cases, however, due to the absence of the necessary elements of a criminal offence in human trafficking in the Penal Code the precise number cannot be ascertained. Cases of unlawful deprivation of liberty have not been crimes of human trafficking according to the survey (there had been cases in 2010 where the victim was taken to the woods, tied to a tree and abandoned there).

Good practices

In the framework of good practices the ongoing work of various non-governmental organisations in prevention of human trafficking as well as helping the victims of human trafficking should be emphasised. The victims of human trafficking in Estonia receive assistance from the rehabilitation centre of the NGO Eluliin called Atoll and from the NGO Ida-Virumaa Women’s Support Centre. Both of these centres offered assistance to a total of 57 victims of human trafficking in 2010.[12] There is also a national hotline for prevention of human trafficking operated by the NGO Living for Tomorrow, which in 2010 provided help to 643 persons, most of them Russian speaking persons from Tallinn, half of them men, half of them women.[13]

Trends in 2011

The level of awareness of the public of their rights, including the right not be involved in forced labour, is relatively low. This also became apparent in the survey published in 2011, which stated that several practicians and academics do not think that forced labour is a problem in Estonia. The same attitude was portrayed in the media, where human trafficking was mostly associated with cases of sexual exploitation.[14] The low level of public awareness makes spreading information essential and necessary. Therefore, the plan to organise awareness raising activities across Estonia that are aimed at the general public on forced labour in order to introduce safe methods for taking up employment in foreign countries, is a welcome one. The follow-up activity of drawing up a guardianship system for children without escort who have been trafficked is also a priority.[15]


  • Pass the amendment prohibiting human trafficking.
  • Raise the awareness of the public in general on the topic of human trafficking and labour exploitation (including among associations of employers, the representative organs of employees, trade unions, organisations mediating labour).

[1] Ministry of Justice (2010). Vägivalla vähendamise arengukava aastateks 2010–2014: 2010. aasta täitmise aruanne [Final report of 2010 on execution of the development for reducing violence for 2010–2014]. Available at:

[2] Riigkogu. Karistusseadustiku ja sellega seonduvate seaduste muutmise seaduse eelnõu seletuskiri [The explanatory memorandum to the draft of the act amending the Penal Code and the acts associated]. Available at:

[3] Ministry of Justice. Valitsus kiitis heaks inimkaubandust kriminaliseeriva seaduse eelnõu. Pressiteade. [Press release: the government improved the draft act criminalising human trafficking] Available at:

[4] Ministry of Justice. Kriminaalpoliitika uuringud 15 [Survey of criminal policy 15]. Kuriteguvus Eestis 2010. Available at:

[5] Eesti Päevaleht. Mees orjastas Lasnamäel vaimupuudega naise ja müüs teda kui lapsprostituuti [Man in Lasnamäe enslaved a woman with a mental disability and pimped her out as a child prostitute]. 14.03.2011. Available at:

[6] Eesti Päevaleht. Sotsiaalministeerium uurib vaimupuudega naise orjastamise juhtumit [Ministry of Social Affairs is investigating the enslaving of a woman with a mental disability]. 16.03.2011. Available at:

[7] Report series 68. Trafficking for Forced Labour and Labour Exploitation in Finland, Poland and Estonia. Available at:

[7] Trafficking for Forced Labour and Labour Exploitation in Estonia. Available at:; filename=Estonian report.pdf&SSURIsscontext=Satellite Server&blobwhere=1296728243676&blobheadername1=Content-Disposition&ssbinary=true&blobheader=application/pdf. 05.01.2012.

[8] Trafficking for Forced Labour and Labour Exploitation in Estonia.

[9] United States Department of State‚ Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 – Estonia. Available at:,,,,EST,,4c1883f6c,0.html.

[10] United States Department of State‚ Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 – Estonia.

[11] Ministry of Justice. Kriminaalpoliitika uuringud 15.

[12]  Ministry of Justice (2010). Vägivalla vähendamise arengukava aastateks 2010–2014: 2010. aasta täitmise aruanne.

[13] Ministry of Justice. Kriminaalpoliitika uuringud 15.

[14] Report series 68. Trafficking for Forced Labour and Labour Exploitation in Finland, Poland and Estonia.

[14] Trafficking for Forced Labour and Labour Exploitation in Estonia.

[15] Ministry of Justice (2010). Vägivalla vähendamise arengukava aastateks 2010–2014: 2010. aasta täitmise aruanne.