2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Moldova


The Government of Moldova does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Moldova remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting more suspected traffickers, developing a new national referral mechanism (NRM), opening a center for male trafficking victims, and commencing construction of a center for child victims and witnesses of crime, including trafficking. The Prosecutors General Office (PGO) approved guidelines for identifying, investigating, and prosecuting child exploitation cases involving information and communication technologies, and the Superior Counsel of Magistrates extended the mandates of trafficking-specialized judges from one year to five years, increasing judges’ experience and understanding of trafficking and creating a more victim-centered judicial environment. Additionally, the government passed an amendment to include trafficking victims as beneficiaries of state-guaranteed legal aid and to return responsibility to the State Labor Inspectorate (SLI) to conduct labor inspections as well as regulate employment agencies, recruiters, and unlicensed labor agents. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities investigated fewer trafficking cases, convicted fewer traffickers, and identified fewer trafficking victims. Corruption, particularly in law enforcement and the judiciary, impeded prosecutions and influenced the outcomes of cases, including cases against complicit officials. The government did not report investigating or prosecuting any complicit officials involved in trafficking crimes, despite a long history of alleged complicity by government employees. Traffickers continued to intimidate victims, and authorities provided uneven levels of protection during court proceedings. Protection and assistance for child victims remained inadequate, and authorities charged children with unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Finally, the lack of long-term reintegration support left victims susceptible to re-victimization.


Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials. • Implement measures to address corruption in the judicial sector and law enforcement community, including taking steps to shield trafficking investigators and prosecutors from external influence and internal corruption. • Proactively identify trafficking victims, particularly children, including by screening for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations and citizens returning to Moldova, and refer victims to care facilities for assistance. • Ensure trafficking victims, including children, are not inappropriately penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. • Exempt all victims from the requirement of in-person confrontations with their accused traffickers before an investigation can begin and ensure all child victims receive special protection measures during trials. • Ensure consistent use of laws and regulations designed to protect victims during trial and prosecute perpetrators of witness tampering and intimidation to the full extent of the law. • Empower authorities to conduct onsite unannounced labor inspections and announced inspections regardless of whether authorities receive written complaints. • Amend the law to allow authorities to inspect facilities when they have suspicions or visual evidence of businesses’ involvement in child labor, including forced child labor. • Adopt and implement the new NRM. • Increase efforts to identify and investigate online sex trafficking and child exploitation. • Train police, judges, and prosecutors on a victim-centered approach to investigations and prosecutions. • Formalize government oversight of private employment agencies, including monitoring for and penalizing any recruitment fees charged to applicants. • Develop and implement a national action plan for 2021.


The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Articles 165 and 206 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of six to 12 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving an adult victim and 10 to 12 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 168 of the criminal code also criminalized forced labor and imposed penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment.

The pandemic severely impeded anti-trafficking efforts, challenging police, prosecutors, judges, government coordinating bodies, social workers, and civil society organizations. The government implemented movement-restriction lockdowns and other social distancing measures that limited the activity of all elements of law enforcement. At various points throughout the year, state employees, including police and prosecutors, worked remotely or on limited schedules. In March 2020, the government closed courts and did not reopen them until June 2020; while closed, courts did not have the capacity to conduct trials or hearings online, delaying all proceedings. When trials resumed, the need to maintain social distancing reduced the caseload of many courts, creating a significant backlog. According to prosecutors, the closure of courts affected negatively and significantly the progress of all criminal cases, including trafficking cases. Consequently, in 2020, authorities conducted 65 investigations (35 sex trafficking, 30 labor trafficking), compared with 153 in 2019 and 223 in 2018. The government initiated 96 prosecutions (60 sex trafficking, 36 labor trafficking), a slight increase from 90 in 2019 and 83 in 2018. Courts convicted 32 traffickers (22 sex trafficking, 10 labor trafficking), compared with 63 in 2019 and 59 in 2018. The majority of convicted traffickers received prison sentences ranging from seven years to 16 years. Additionally, a district court convicted one trafficker for knowingly patronizing or soliciting a trafficking victim for commercial sex acts and issued a suspended sentence. During the reporting period, authorities cooperated with foreign counterparts on trafficking investigations. In one case, Moldovan, Romanian, and French authorities set up a joint investigation team to pursue a labor trafficking case involving Moldovan nationals in France. Authorities arrested 38 traffickers (seven in Moldova); seized 19 vehicles, weapons, phones, and approximately €100,000 ($122,700) in cash; and froze 11 bank accounts. The investigation began in 2018 when French authorities intercepted a van transporting Moldovan migrants, who were carrying counterfeit Romanian documents. The transnational trafficking ring, set up by a Romanian national living in France, smuggled at least 40 Moldovan citizens to France to exploit them in the construction sector. The illegal profits from the trafficking scheme totaled nearly €14 million ($17.18 million).

Perennial problems, including high turnover within the police and prosecutor’s office, corruption in law enforcement and the judiciary, and lengthy trials, undermined government efforts. In 2020, the government appointed a new commander who had no background in trafficking investigations to the Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons (CCTIP), the lead anti-trafficking investigative and police agency, and reduced the role of the deputy commander. Furthermore, CCTIP and the Organized Crime Prosecution Office (PCCOCS) continued to suffer from high turnover of experienced staff, limiting the agencies’ ability to investigate complex cases, including transnational criminal organizations or complicit government employees. In 2020, a labor trafficking case involving a border police officer from the previous reporting period remained under investigation. Apart from that case and despite a long history of alleged complicity by government employees, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. Furthermore, corruption in the judicial system remained an acute impediment to bringing traffickers to justice with prosecutors, members of the judiciary, and members of law enforcement implicated in corrupt practices. Courts frequently reversed convictions on appeal, sometimes without explanation or on weak grounds. Judges tended to re-qualify cases from trafficking crimes to crimes with lesser penalties, such as pimping, and issue varying sentences to different traffickers for the same crimes committed under the same circumstances. Observers noted prosecutors sent trafficking cases to court without sufficient evidence collection and withheld case files from lawyers representing victims. Moreover, lengthy trials impeded justice and often led to the acquittal of traffickers. Since final verdicts could take years, and by law, authorities could only detain suspects for 12 months, authorities released suspected traffickers before trials concluded, enabling them to flee the country or retaliate against witnesses.

Prosecutors at every level, from the PGO to regional territorial prosecution offices, were responsible for prosecuting trafficking crimes. The PGO maintained a unit with specialized prosecutors, who coordinated anti-trafficking prosecution policies and supervised the work of regional territorial prosecutors when working on trafficking cases. The PGO expanded its mandate to investigate child sexual exploitation cases involving information and communication technologies and approved guidelines for identifying, investigating, and prosecuting such cases. Additionally, the PGO worked with an international organization to develop a methodology for recovering criminal assets and best practices in conducting parallel financial investigations. In 2020, prosecutors seized approximately 21 million Moldovan lei ($1.23 million) in property, including money, real estate, and movable assets, from traffickers, a significant increase from 1.55 million lei ($90,750) in 2019. PCCOCS also had a specialized unit for prosecuting trafficking cases initiated by CCTIP as well as cases involving criminal organizations. However, prosecutors assigned to PCCOCS lacked experience handling trafficking cases, and PCCOCS did not require them to meet any specific qualifications for investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes. The Chisinau Prosecutor’s Office maintained an Anti-Trafficking Bureau and conducted the prosecution of trafficking cases from Chisinau municipality; at the district level, specialized prosecutors conducted the prosecution of trafficking cases. Within the judiciary, there were specialized judges trained specifically to handle trafficking cases. In 2020, the Superior Counsel of Magistrates extended the mandates of trafficking-specialized judges from one year to five years, increasing these judges’ experience and understanding of trafficking and creating a judicial environment more sensitive to the needs of victims. In 2020, the government provided more than 354 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges; and judiciary staff specialized training on investigating, prosecuting, and trying trafficking cases. An additional 225 specialists from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection and other state agencies received training on identifying and assisting victims of trafficking. The National Institute of Justice partnered with an NGO to organize two training courses on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting crimes committed against children using information technology, attended by 28 judges and prosecutors and 36 judicial clerks and prosecutors’ assistants. Overall, the government’s ability to fund key law enforcement and social protection institutes remained limited. As a result, the government relied heavily on donor funding to train police, border guards, prosecutors, and judges.


The government maintained victim protection efforts. According to authorities, pandemic-related challenges, including authorities’ prioritization of screening for signs of the virus over trafficking indicators—particularly between February and April 2020 when a wave of Moldovans returned home from Western Europe—severely inhibited identification of trafficking victims. Consequently, in 2020 the government identified 138 trafficking victims (44 sex trafficking, 94 labor trafficking), a significant decrease from 341 in 2019 and 364 in 2018. Of the 139 identified victims, 23 were children (20 sex trafficking, three labor trafficking), a decrease from 109 in 2019 and the lowest number of reported identified child victims since 2011. The National Referral Strategy (NRS) governed identification and referral procedures but expired in 2016. Thus, in cooperation with civil society, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection developed a new NRM to be implemented in 2021. During the reporting period, authorities utilized the current NRS, which observers reported lacked policy guidance and hindered efficient identification and referral. Under the terms of the NRS, teams of local officials and NGOs in all regions of Moldova coordinated victim identification and assistance. While the law permitted the local teams to identify victims, in practice, victims required law enforcement confirmation of identification to access state-funded assistance. Similar to the previous reporting period, a limited number of identified victims received assistance—51 in 2020, compared with 71 in 2019 and 110 in 2018. In 2020, law enforcement referred nearly 50 percent of victims who received assistance to shelters or NGOs, a rise from 30 percent in 2019, indicating increased cooperation with civil society.

The government provided short-term shelters and limited financial assistance for reintegration, including housing and living allowances. Adult victims received assistance in seven government-funded centers and shelters across the country, offering medical, legal, and psychological assistance, regardless of their cooperation with law enforcement. During the reporting period. the government, in collaboration with an international organization, opened the first center to support male trafficking victims with specialized services, including social and rehabilitation services and accommodation for up to 10 men. Civil society psychologists and attorneys remained the most qualified to assist victims, especially in the regions outside of the capital where government social workers frequently lacked trafficking-specific training. Observers reported long-term assistance for victims, particularly long-term reintegration support such as education, counseling, and job-placement, remained a challenge, leaving victims at risk of re-victimization. Observers also reported overall inadequate resources, including insufficient funding, hampered government efforts. In 2020, the government allocated approximately 12.7 million lei ($743,560) for victim assistance, compared with 11 million lei ($644,030) in 2019. The government often relied on NGOs and international organizations to supplement government funding. In contrast to previous years, the government financed transportation and escorts for repatriated victims; the government also helped repatriated victims access social support services and facilitated identity documents for unaccompanied children. In 2020, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection facilitated the repatriation of eight adult victims from France and Portugal using funds from the state budget. Foreign victims received the same access to care as citizens; however, refugees and asylum-seekers received assistance in specialized centers under the Migration and Asylum Bureau. Observers noted a lack of adequate and immediate social support, including, shelter, medical care, and counseling, for foreign victims before determination of their legal status. Moldovan law permitted foreign victims a 30-day reflection period, during which they could receive assistance and protection while determining whether to cooperate with law enforcement. Foreign victims who chose to cooperate with law enforcement received temporary residency. Victims in Transnistria could not access or benefit from Moldovan services or legal protections.

There were two referral mechanisms to support child victims: the NRS and the Inter-sectorial Collaboration Mechanism for the Protection of Children. The latter enabled social services to refer children presumed to be at risk of violence, neglect, exploitation, or trafficking to law enforcement. Additionally, the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research established a mechanism for identifying and reporting child abuse, including trafficking, in state institutions. Nonetheless, reports persisted of management in state institutions participating in the exploitation of children. The Center for Assistance and Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking (CAP) assisted child trafficking victims. CAP offered legal, social, and psychological assistance, as well as accommodation to child victims. In 2020, CAP assisted 10 child victims in the shelter in Chisinau. The CAP shelter in Chisinau remained the only facility for child victims and provided limited social services for 30 days followed by placement into permanent housing and continued counseling and assistance. Authorities also placed child victims in foster care, orphanages, state residential schools, group homes, or other types of temporary residential facilities due to the lack of dedicated facilities. However, in 2020, the government began construction of one of three new regional centers for integrated assistance for child victims and witnesses of crime, including trafficking, designed to provide specialized medical, psychological, and social care and allow for forensic medical examinations and interviews with trained specialists in a safe environment. The government envisioned the first center, located in Balti, to serve children from 12 cities and districts across northern Moldova and operate under the management of the National Center for Prevention of Child Abuse. The government projected the remaining two centers in Chisinau and Cahul to serve the center and southern part of the country. Civil society reported the lack of services for resocialization and reintegration for child victims of sexual exploitation put them at a higher risk for institutionalization and further trauma. The government financed a 24-hour, NGO-run hotline for children, which provided psychological counseling and information to parents and children experiencing exploitation.

Overall, the government did not adequately protect victims participating in investigations and prosecutions. Law enforcement seldom fully informed victims of their rights, and victims did not understand court proceedings. The law required adult victims to confront their alleged traffickers in person, putting victims at risk for re-traumatization and likely deterring victims from reporting crimes. In cases involving child victims ages 14 to 18, judges permitted traffickers to be present during child interviews and often refused to apply special interviewing measures, such as conducting interviews in specially equipped rooms and with a psychologist present. Judges frequently disregarded laws and regulations designed to protect victims during trial proceedings thereby violating victims’ rights and allowing traffickers to intimidate some victims in the courtroom such that the victims felt pressured to change their testimony. Authorities could fine or imprison victims for making false statements if they changed their testimony, whether unintentionally due to the trauma experienced or deliberately due to bribes or intimidation. In 2020, law enforcement opened one investigation for threatening murder or grave bodily harm related to witness intimidation and 14 criminal investigations for inducing false statements in trafficking cases. In the former case, authorities arrested and imprisoned the suspects. A 2020 amendment to the law on state-guaranteed legal aid added trafficking victims to the list of eligible beneficiaries, granting them access to free legal assistance without providing proof of indigence; two victims benefited from public legal representation in 2020. However, victims continued to rely mostly on NGOs for legal assistance, and NGOs relied on donors to fund the services. The State Guaranteed Legal Aid Council, in partnership with an international organization, developed a trafficking guide with recommendations for legal aid lawyers on how to better assist victims. The law allowed victims to file for compensation but only if prosecutors filed charges against traffickers or cases ended in convictions. In 2020, victims filed 73 civil suits. The criminal code exempted trafficking victims from criminal liability for committing offenses because of their exploitation. However, when authorities classified cases under related statutes, such as the article criminalizing forced labor, victims were no longer exempt from criminal liability. Similarly, when authorities reclassified sex trafficking cases to pimping cases, victims were no longer exempt from punishment and could be charged with commercial sex offenses. According to an NGO, the government charged five children from 2018 to 2020 with unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.


The government increased prevention efforts. The government continued to implement the 2018-2020 national action plan (NAP) as part of the 2018-2023 national strategy. While the government allocated financial and human resources to the NAP, in practice it was heavily dependent on assistance from international partners for many of its training and support activities. During the reporting period, government action on the plan’s objectives stalled; only some of the objectives were partially completed, and frequent staff turnover at key investigative and prosecution institutions undermined some of the plan’s goals. In consultation with civil society, the Permanent Secretariat of the National Committee on Combatting Trafficking started drafting the 2021-2023 NAP. The Permanent Secretariat oversaw the coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of all anti-trafficking policies. Each municipality and Gagauzia—a Turkic-speaking autonomous territorial region—maintained a Territorial Commission for Combatting Trafficking to coordinate efforts at the local level. The commissions composed of local elected officials, local law enforcement, prosecutors, and social service providers. In collaboration with civil society and international organizations, the government executed several awareness campaigns, mostly funded by donor assistance, including one on the sexual and commercial exploitation of children in vocational schools. However, in 2020 the government conducted a series of low-cost awareness raising activities funded by the state, including creating a video promoting available resources for potential victims. The government funded and operated several trafficking hotlines available in Romanian and Russian and referred 18 calls to law enforcement for investigation, three of which led to prosecutions. The PGO, in coordination with an NGO, created a “Guide on Combatting Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children via Information Technologies” to address the rise in vulnerability among children who spent significant amounts of time online as a result of the pandemic. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by developing, in collaboration with an NGO, the methodology for a behavioral analysis study of convicted child sex offenders.

In 2020, Parliament approved amendments returning responsibility to the SLI to conduct occupational safety and health inspections and regulate employment agencies, recruiters, and unlicensed labor agents. Experts noted this was an important first step toward ensuring the functional integrity of the SLI and conforming with international labor standards. However, SLI noted limited authority to penalize companies for labor law violations and insufficient financial and human resources to conduct inspections. Furthermore, due to the pandemic, from March to June 2020 the government put a moratorium on inspections and related regulatory activities. When the moratorium expired, SLI labor inspectors resumed work, though in a limited capacity and mostly remotely, conducting inspections from their offices. The law limited unannounced labor inspections, which were the country’s main mechanism to identify child labor, including forced child labor, and permitted authorities to conduct onsite inspections provided they received written complaints and gave businesses five days’ notice, giving traffickers opportunity to evade detection. During inspections, authorities could only focus on the alleged violation outlined in the complaint, even if they identified other egregious violations, such as forced child labor. The law prohibited authorities from inspecting facilities, even when they had suspicions or visual evidence of businesses’ involvement in child labor, including forced child labor. Due to these restrictions, government and NGO sources reported the child labor violations identified by the government did not reflect the scale of the country’s problem. In 2020, the government removed four children from potential child labor situations, and the SLI did not identify any cases of forced labor, debt bondage, or slavery. Moreover, there was no mechanism to conduct labor inspections, including for child labor and forced child labor, in Transnistria. The government reported conducting 305 unannounced labor inspections in 2020. Private employers could only be inspected upon referrals from law-enforcement bodies or complaints received from private citizens. A report based on a national information campaign on the risks of labor trafficking noted law enforcement was slow to investigate private employment agencies.

Observers noted the general lax oversight and control of private recruitment agencies, particularly those offering foreign job opportunities, as a key trafficking vulnerability. The amendments to the law allowing SLI to regulate private recruitment agencies included requiring recruiters to provide transparent, legally binding contracts for prospective workers. Agencies in violation of the law faced criminal charges for trafficking, among other penalties. The National Agency for Employment provided information on the benefits of a registered employment contract between employees and employers and the risks of illegal employment abroad. The agency also conducted information sessions on safe migration. Moldovan law prohibited agencies from charging recruitment fees or taxes to job seekers. During the reporting period, Moldova established bilateral work agreements with Israel and Bulgaria to allow Moldovan workers to be recruited under a government-sponsored framework to perform migrant labor in those two countries, protect workers’ rights, and prevent exploitation. Moldova’s public procurement law banned government agencies from contracting with any person or company convicted of trafficking crimes or child labor violations in the previous five years. In 2020, the Ministry of Finance issued updated guidance on public tenders that included a mechanism to exclude any economic agent involved in trafficking or child labor. The criminal laws against trafficking included penalties for individuals or companies profiting from trafficking.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Moldova, and traffickers exploit victims from Moldova abroad. Traffickers typically recruit victims through personal contacts but, due to the pandemic, increasingly use the internet and social media. Most victims are from rural areas and have low levels of education. Traffickers exploit Moldovan victims in sex trafficking and labor trafficking within Moldova and in other parts of Europe, particularly Russia. Victims of sex trafficking are overwhelmingly women and girls. Traffickers operating in Romania and Moldova exploit Moldovan women and girls through Romania with fraudulent passports in trafficking operations across Europe. Children are exploited in online child pornography, which experts note is used as a grooming method for sex trafficking. Cases involving child victims were mostly sex trafficking cases occurring in Chisinau. Traffickers exploit children, some as young as 10, in commercial sex and child labor, mostly in agriculture, construction, service, and industrial sectors. Children living on the street or in orphanages or abandoned by parents migrating abroad remain vulnerable to exploitation. Observers express concern that corrupt management in state institutions exploit children in domestic services or on farms. Labor trafficking remains the most prevalent form of exploitation among adult male victims. Labor migrants remain at risk of trafficking, particularly in labor-intensive sectors such as the construction industry. The undocumented or stateless population, including the Roma community, within Moldova are at risk of exploitation, primarily in the agricultural sector. The breakaway region of Transnistria remains a predominate source for sex trafficking victims. Women from the Gagauzia Autonomous Territory are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Turkey. Official complicity in trafficking continues to be a significant problem in Moldova.