Human trafficking in Croatia
Croatia is a destination, source, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced prostitution and forced labor. Croatian women and girls fall victim to sex trafficking within the country, and women and girls from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other parts of Europe are subjected to forced prostitution in Croatia and in Europe. Men reportedly are subjected to forced labor in agricultural sectors, and children, including Roma, are subjected to conditions of forced begging and theft.
The Government of Croatia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. In 2009, the government continued to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders, increased the minimum imposed penalty for convicted traffickers, and for the first time, ordered a trafficker to pay compensation to a victim. Croatia provided significant funding to NGOs providing assistance and shelter to trafficking victims during the reporting period and continued proactive training and outreach on victim identification. However, the government identified very few trafficking victims in 2009 and failed to protect some victim witnesses.
The Government of Croatia generally sustained its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts in 2009, though it prosecuted only half as many traffickers as it did the previous year. It continued to exclusively use its human trafficking law to prosecute and convict sex and forced labor trafficking during the reporting period.
Croatia criminally prohibits trafficking for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation through Criminal Provision 175 of its penal code. Provision 175 prescribes penalties for all forms of trafficking of one to 10 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and are commensurate with those prescribed for rape. In 2009, the government investigated 13 suspected trafficking offenders, compared with 15 in 2008. It prosecuted six traffickers in 2009, a decrease from 12 prosecuted in 2008. Six trafficking offenders were convicted and given sentences ranging from two to eight years, compared with nine convictions obtained in 2008; however, one conviction was out on appeal and awaited a final verdict. Two of these convictions involved forced labor.
The government increased its minimum imposed sentence for all trafficking convictions from one to two years during the reporting period. In the first civil trafficking case, the court ordered the trafficker to pay $28,466 in compensation to the victim. The government continued to provide general anti-trafficking training to police officers, and continued its “train-the-trainer” program involving 26 police officers training counterparts on ways to recognize and assist trafficking victims. There were no specific reports of trafficking-related complicity during the reporting period.
The Government of Croatia sustained significant efforts to ensure that victims of trafficking received access to necessary care. It continued to fund NGOs as well as its two specialized shelters for adult women and children trafficking victims, totaling $96,461 in 2009. It also provided $45,937 to NGOs to support and assist trafficking victims. Four victims used shelter facilities in 2009. While the government continued to emphasize a victim-centered approach, it identified only eight victims during the reporting period, one more than 2008, but lower than the 15 victims identified in 2007.
The government amended its Law on Foreigners in March 2009 to extend the “reflection period” from 30 to 90 days; children continue to be eligible for a stay of 90 days. The government actively encouraged victim participation in trafficking cases and reported that all eight identified victims assisted in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers in 2009. According to preliminary findings released in a January 2010 research project on trafficking and prostitution conducted between December 2008 and November 2009, the Croatian government did not provide adequate protections for some trafficking victims who testified against their traffickers. Researchers reported victims were required to testify repeatedly during trafficking trials; victim’s testimony can be arranged via video-conference system.
The government initiated a pilot assistance program for victim witnesses in four courts in 2009 to improve protections for these victims. Researchers also recommended that the government should intensify efforts to identify adequately all potential victims of forced prostitution. Although victims could be both witness and defendant in some court cases, researchers reported that the government made efforts to ensure that recognized trafficking victims were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked.
In response to continued concerns about prostitution and potential trafficking during the high tourist season along the Adriatic coast, the government reported training over 250 police officers in coastal cities during 2009. Although police reported conducting 10 anti-trafficking operations along the coast in 2009, the government did not identify any trafficking victims as a result of these operations. The government provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. Out of the four foreign trafficking victims identified in 2009, the government repatriated one female to Bosnia and Herzegovina and three to Serbia.
In 2009, the government continued its progressive national-level outreach and anti-trafficking training efforts to raise awareness and prevent trafficking. During the reporting period, it implemented numerous anti-trafficking education workshops and seminars for Croatian authorities, including social workers, diplomatic and consular staff, judges, prosecutors, police, and students, including members of mobile teams responsible for assisting trafficking victims. In November 2009, it organized a seminar for leaders in the tourism industry on ways to identify victims of trafficking. It continued to conduct anti-trafficking training for Croatian soldiers prior to their deployment to Afghanistan as international peacekeepers.