Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution (HESTIA)

"Co-funded by the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Union"

In order to solve the problem of sham marriages in Latvia and Europe the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) with the support of Directorate General of Home Affairs of European Commission (EC) "Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme" has launched a transnational project HESTIA, that involved six public and non-governmental organizations from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Slovakia and, Ireland. Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) is being implemented by Directorate General of Home finance of European Commission (EC) "Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme". Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845.

Framework of the project includes variety of activities: discussions of legislators, policy planners and practitioners at national and regional level in each country; comprehensive research of the problem of sham marriages; development of learning methodology, that will later be implemented in training for social workers, social educators, workers of educational institutions, media representatives, state and municipal police officers and representatives of non-governmental organizations; awareness raising campaigns and final conference. Overall, project activities will involve and address more than 700 thousand members of the society in six EU countries.

HESTIA project partners: NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

Project launched on 1 January 2015 and will last for 24 months. On 5th and 6th February 2015 the first meeting of the representatives of the project’s Member States was organized in Riga in order to discuss HESTIA future activities and plans.

Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and the Manager of project HESTIA: "So far the problem of trafficking in human beings with the purpose of sham marriages has not been studied in any of the EU Member States, there is no information on persons engaged in sham marriages, on their use in other forms of trafficking in human beings, as well as a study has not been made about the laws used for the restriction of this phenomenon in other EU countries. HESTIA project activities - national and regional discussions in five countries, the study, specialist education, and informative activities are a combined set of measures aimed at raising awareness and establishing a comprehensive action in the EU Member States to prevent this form of trafficking in human beings.” 

Sandra Zalcmane, the Head of the NGO “Shelter “Safe House”” says: "Our  statistical data shows that since 2007 the association has provided 113 persons with social rehabilitation services of which 59 were victims of sham marriages. From 2010 to 2014 the specialists of the association prepared 27 applications for submission to the court for declaring the marriage not valid from the moment of its conclusion of which 9 are litigated cases. On average, the proceedings lasted for 14-16 months. Last year the telephone operators of the twenty-four hours Trustline - 28612120 - provided 220 consultations for reducing the trafficking in human beings, of which 63 have been cases of sham marriages. This means that people are already interested in prevention of trafficking in human beings and in measures to protect themselves from it. There is still a lot of work that we together with partners invest in informing the society, and also in education of specialists. Our awareness campaigns in recent years have acquired recognition at the international level, and Latvia can be proud of gaining good experience in providing prevention activities, being an example, sharing knowledge with other countries. For prevention efforts to be effective, a continuous work of all involved parties is necessary, so it is a gratification that issues of sham marriages in the framework of this project will be addressed at the international level between both countries of origin of victims and countries of destination.”

NGO “Living for Tomorrow" stated that during last year 2 people in Estonia were formally identified as victims of trafficking in human beings and one case has been connected with sham marriage. NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania) informs that in 2014 16 pre-trial investigations were initiated, provided assistance to 20 victims of trafficking in human beings.18 persons have been recognized as suspects. The main forms of trafficking in human beings - forced prostitution and involvement in criminal activities. European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) reported that Finland has very little information on trafficking in human beings with the purpose of forced marriages or sham marriages. Most of identified victims were victims of labour exploitation.

Data provided by the Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic shows that in 2014 30 victims of trafficking in human beings have been identified, 13 of them are victims of sexual exploitation, 9 of forced marriages, 4 of forced labour, 2 of forced begging, 1 of involvement in criminal activities, 1 of other form of trafficking in human beings. Number of identified cases of forced sham marriages involving Slovak citizens increases every year: 2 victims were registered in 2011, 2 victims in 2012, 7 victims in 2013, 9 victims in 2014. In many cases of sham marriages women were also forced into prostitution.

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