Latvia’s efforts to protect the victims of human trafficking have taken a slight step back during the past year, according to a U.S. State Department report issued June 14. However, prosecution of traffickers and prevention of trafficking appear to be on course.
Lack of funding is in part to blame for Latvia’s slide in protecting victims, the State Department said in its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report,” which examines how women and children worldwide are exploited for sex and forced labor. Two shelters run by the Latvian government in Rīga and Jelgava were closed in the past year.
“The government funds no rehabilitation facilities specifically for trafficking victims, nor does it provide direct funding to foreign or domestic NGOs (non-governmental organizations) for services to victims,” the report said. At the same time, NGOs are being asked to do more.
The report examines what 140 countries are doing to meet the standards outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law passed in 2000 by the U.S. Congress. Latvia for the past three years has been listed as a Tier 2 country, meaning that it among those nations that do not fully comply with the minimum standards “but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards,” according to the report.
Women and children from Latvia are trafficked for sexual exploitation to Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, the report said. Israeli, Polish and Ukrainian organized crime groups control the main trafficking networks in concert with domestic Latvian crime groups. In addition, the report said, women and girls from rural Latvia are trafficked domestically for exploitation in the capital city of Rīga.
Although Latvia is criticized in the report, the State Department also notes the country is making an effort to improve. A national action plan to combat trafficking in persons was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in March, while prosecution of traffickers has increased slightly. To raise awareness, more than 10,000 high school students across Latvia were shown the Swedish anti-trafficking film Lilya 4-Ever. The film tells the story of a young woman from Russia who travels to Sweden in the hope of a better future, but instead is forced into prostitution.
Estonia fared slightly worse in the report, landing on the Tier 2 Watch List because of slow efforts in protecting victims and preventing trafficking. Lithuania remained ahead of both its Baltic neighbors on the Tier 1 list, fully complying with the minimum standards of the U.S. law.
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