The government decreased victim protection efforts. The government maintained SOPs for the identification, referral, and support of trafficking victims, including standardized indicators and guidelines to identify victims in irregular migration flows and high-risk sectors. The government, in cooperation with civil society, revised indicators for identifying victims among schoolchildren. However, the SOPs did not provide clear roles and responsibilities for relevant institutions, lacked proactive efforts, and implementation remained “recommended” rather than required. In previous years, some first responders, particularly at Centers for Social Work (CSW), justified cases of potential forced child begging and forced labor involving Roma as traditional cultural practices and customs. CPTV assessed and officially identified adult victims and developed a protection and assistance plan for each victim, while CSW assessed and officially recognized child victims. In 2021, first responders referred 127 potential victims to CPTV, compared with 130 in 2020; law enforcement referred 59 potential victims, social welfare organizations referred 28 potential victims, NGOs and international organizations referred 14 potential victims; five potential victims self-identified, and private citizens and other institutions referred 21 potential victims. The government identified 43 victims from the 127 potential victims, compared with 48 victims in 2020; 23 were victims of sex trafficking, nine of forced labor, two of forced criminality, and nine of multiple types of exploitation. Overall, 21 were women, eight men, 13 girls, and one boy, and one foreign victim. GRETA and other experts reported CPTV lacked the staff to review cases in a timely manner and resources to travel to the location of potential victims and interview them in person. Experts continued to report the lack of transparency regarding the official victim assessment and CPTV’s inability to assess potential victims consistently. For example, CPTV did not provide information or notify relevant stakeholders on whether it interviewed the Vietnamese workers in the PRC-owned factory or conducted an official victim assessment in this case. Additionally, the National Rapporteur responded to an NGO complaint and concluded that CPTV and CSW failed to identify and provide assistance to a child victim. CPTV reported staff occasionally tested positive for COVID-19, while CSW staff were heavily burdened due to an increased workload and at times limited staff stemming from the pandemic and could not support all victims.
The government allocated approximately 35.2 million dinars ($339,830) to CPTV for victim assistance, compared with 23 million dinars ($222,050) in 2020. The government did not provide funding to NGOs despite relying heavily, and at times solely, on their victim support and reintegration services. The government and NGOs provided the following assistance to victims: psycho-social, legal, educational, medical, financial, and reintegration support; personal protective equipment; and necessary medical assistance for COVID-19. All victims in 2021 and 2020 received some form of government assistance. The government reported providing equal protection to foreign national and Serbian citizen victims, but foreign victims faced obstacles in accessing support, according to experts, who noted some local communities limit shelter accommodation to Serbian nationals. Although the government required victims to be referred only to licensed service providers, licenses were difficult to obtain because of a lack of official standards and criteria to approve licenses. CPTV opened a shelter for trafficking victims in February 2019 with the capacity to accommodate six victims; however, the CPTV-run shelter remained closed since September 2020 due to its inability to obtain a license. As a result, an NGO-run shelter operated the only specialized shelter for trafficking victims. Before the closure of the CPTV-run shelter, CPTV reported difficulties in fulfilling their expanded responsibilities from a coordinating body to one that also provided direct assistance at the shelter due to a continued lack of capacity, resources, and staff, including technical staff to provide support to victims. In previous years, civil society reported CPTV relying on its scarce resources to support the shelter with food, toiletries, and access to vehicles, but CPTV reported establishing agreements with companies to secure food, hygiene products, and other donations for victims.
CSW operated shelters for domestic violence victims that also accommodated female trafficking victims. The government maintained a drop-in shelter for homeless children, and CSW returned child victims to their families, referred them to foster care, or placed them in one of the two Centers for Children without Parental Care; three child victims were accommodated in general shelters (17 in 2020), seven were placed in foster families (21 in 2020), and none were accommodated in shelters for asylum seekers and migrants (seven in 2020). The government did not provide specialized accommodation for male victims. An NGO rented accommodation for male victims as needed, and male victims could access all other rehabilitation services offered to female victims. CPTV maintained a protocol with the National Employment Service (NES) to assist victims in finding employment and, in cooperation with the Association of Business Women, referred nine victims for training to NES (none in 2020). The government provided foreign victims temporary residence permits, renewable up to one year, and allowed potential foreign victims to stay for three months; no victims required a temporary residence permit (one victim in 2020). The government did not repatriate any victims (10 victims to Serbia in 2020). Observers reported the lack of a standardized database to collect information on trafficking victims created obstacles in managing cases and monitoring access and quality of support services.
Authorities penalized victims of sex trafficking, forced begging, and forced criminality with imprisonment, probation, and fines. Victims’ ability to access support services and assistance was not contingent on cooperating with law enforcement investigations, but once a case was reported to police, authorities required victims to cooperate with investigations and testify during trials, including children; the government did not report the number of victims that cooperated with prosecutions (68 victims in 2020). The law designated officially recognized victims as a “particularly vulnerable group” eligible for the status of an “especially vulnerable witness” and/or “protective witness” with special assistance and procedural considerations, such as testifying without the defendant present or via video link and access to witness protection. However, observers reported most courts did not have the technical capacity to offer testimony via video link and victims frequently appeared in front of the alleged trafficker during trial, causing re-traumatization. The government granted the status of an “especially vulnerable witness” to 33 victims (20 in 2020) but did not grant “protective witness status” to any victims (none in 2020). In previous years, observers reported an absence of victim confidentiality measures; one example included the MOI publishing information on a trafficker who was the victim’s father, and as a result, media organizations easily identified the victim. The government established a coordination body to support victims and witnesses during criminal proceedings. The government provided free legal aid to victims, but it did not collect information on how many victims received assistance, and observers reported local governments did not advertise the service and only a few victims received free legal aid. Judges rarely issued restitution in criminal cases and encouraged victims to seek compensation by filing civil suits; judges granted restitution to one victim for 1.12 million dinars ($10,780), but it has not yet been paid out. Civil suits were lengthy, expensive, and required the victim to face the trafficker multiple times; only one victim received compensation to date. The Constitutional Court ruled that the PPO and High Court in Belgrade failed to fulfill their obligations to conduct a fair trial and protect a victim’s rights in a child trafficking case and awarded compensation to the child victim for €5,800 ($6,580).