During the 1980s, Serbia (and former Yugoslavia as a whole), as a country with better living standards compared with the rest of the region, was primarily the country of destination for women from Eastern Europe. Because of the war and the arrival of foreign military troupes during the disintegration of SFRY, the number of victims of human trafficking in Serbia grew. During this period, victims were primarily transferred across the territory of Serbia from Bulgaria, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine on their way to Bosnia (and further on to Italy, Spain, France), Kosovo and Metohija and Macedonia (to Greece, Saudi Arabia) and to the countries of Central and Northern Europe.
In the post conflict period and due to consequent changes in the society, Serbia has also become a country of origin of trafficking victims. The privatization of the socially-owned sector during the process of economic and political transition affects increase in the unemployment of women who mostly work in socially-owned enterprises, in traditional “women” occupations. Particularly vulnerable are women with primary and secondary education working on positions for which new labor market circumstances require updated and advanced skills.
Some research findings confirm that women in Serbia were generally less paid than their male colleagues, in spite of having higher education.
Relevant factor which contributes to increase in human trafficking in Serbia is certainly the escalation (or increased registration) of domestic violence. We see the experience of the majority countries in transition, which brings about changes in traditional family relations, repeated – women become the main breadwinner of the family, while men are being deprived of their “leading” role; it is such family structures where physical violence is on the rise, opposite to a situation where both partners support the family. The results of a research study on domestic violence in Serbia, conducted by the Victimology Society of Serbia, indicate that every other woman in Serbia experiences mental violence in family, every third suffer physical violence and every fourth is threatened by violence.
Degrading social and economic circumstances contributed to the feminization of poverty in our country, which becomes one of the main causes for the migration of women. Since possibilities for immigrating abroad legally are limited, advertisements offering jobs to babysitters, waitresses, nurses or dancers seem attractive to many women who want to leave. Contrary to expectations, they end up in countries of the region or in Western Europe, where they are forced into sexual services. Also present is child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, begging, theft or false adoption, as well as the labor exploitation of children and adults.
For the reasons of different modalities in human trafficking and changing trends that we have observed during our five-year work on this problem, it is very hard to make a profile of the victims of trafficking in Serbia.
While previously identified victims of human trafficking were mostly foreign citizens for whom Serbia was the country of transit or final destination, since 2003-2004 we have been facing the problem of internal trafficking. Specifically, in the largest number of cases, victims of human trafficking are domestic citizens who are trafficked within the territory of our country, i.e. the whole process of human trafficking takes place in the Republic of Serbia.
During the same period, we have observe rise in the number of children that end up in the trafficking chain. So far, this trend has remained steady, while the age of children who are most often targeted by traffickers is in decline; and it is well know that the younger the children the more vulnerable they are. In that context, the average age of children – trafficking victims is significantly lower (around 13) compared with figures from a few years ago.
Another emerging trend is rise in the share of mentally challenged persons in the total number of identified victims of trafficking. Reasons for this may be found in their obvious susceptibility to manipulation and in the inefficiency of the existing social welfare system to protect this category of (potential) victims.
In all stages of human trafficking, women, children and men are exposed to different forms of abuse and exploitation, by which their basic human rights are violated. Most often this includes sexual exploitation, but the number of labor exploitation cases has been growing in recent years. Victims of labor exploitation are mostly children and adult men. A general upward trend in the number of boys and men in the total number of identified trafficking victims was observed in last three years.
The existing program of protection is not completely adapted to current trends. At the moment, Serbia does not have programs designed specifically for children – victims of human trafficking nor a shelter adapted to their needs, but they are treated equally as adult victims. The same problem is present when we talk about assistance to mentally challenged persons.
Currently, there are two shelters specialized for victims of human trafficking operating in Serbia: one within NGO Counseling against Family Violence and another run by NGO Atina, which is focused on the reintegration of victims of human trafficking.
Anti-trafficking actors do not have comprehensive data on the total number of victims in the territory of Serbia, but figures released by different stakeholders does not indicate to any significant decline in the presence of this problem.
Having signed and ratified the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and Protocols thereto, the Republic of Serbia is under international legal obligation to implement them in practice.
In May 2001, the first multi-disciplinary anti-trafficking body was created at a federal level – the Yugoslav Team for Combating Human Trafficking, whose members were the representatives of government institutions, non-governmental and international organizations. In April 2002, the National Team for Combating Human Trafficking was established, with almost identical list of participants, to operate at the level of the Republic of Serbia.
In April 2003, the Criminal Law of the Republic of Serbia was amended and modified to include, inter alia, criminal offence of human trafficking, which was governed by Article 111b. The definition of the offence was in compliance with the one given in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children. As this Article failed to distinguish between human trafficking and people smuggling, these two offences were separated in the new Criminal Code of Serbia, which came into force on January 1, 2006: trafficking in human beings is governed by the provisions of Article 388 and illegal crossing of the state border and people smuggling by the provisions of Article 350. Moreover, trafficking in children for adoption is also regulated by a separate article (Article 389). Minimum penalty for human trafficking, that is, for trafficking in a minor, as specified in Article 388, Paragraph 3, has been reduced from five to three years in prison, in spite of general upward trend in the number of children – victims of trafficking.
In March 2004, within the national anti-trafficking mechanism (which part is the National Team for Combating Human Trafficking), the Agency for Coordination of Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking was established under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Policy. The Agency was set up as a result of a joint project of this Ministry and OSCE Mission to the Republic of Serbia. Agency’s role is to coordinate all organizations and institutions involved in counter-trafficking effort in Serbia.
In 2004, the Interior Minister issued an Instruction on conditions for approving temporary residence to foreign citizens victims of human trafficking, according to which a law enforcement authority may approve foreign nationals temporary stay of 3, 6 or 12 months for humanitarian reasons.
In December 2006, the Government of Serbia adopted the Anti-Trafficking Strategy, which comprises a series of measures and activities that should be undertaken in order to suppress this problem. Drawing up this Strategy, strategic goals have been set forth, which implementation is planned through different activities worked out in the National Plan of Action for combating trafficking in human beings. To date, the National Action Plan has not been completed.
The Witness Protection Law came into force on January 1, 2006. This Law specifies conditions and procedures for protection and help to those involved criminal procedure and persons close to them, who are at risk because of their participation in criminal proceedings.