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Human trafficking in Armenia: 28 crime cases in 8 months

12 November 2023 20:45 (UTC+04:00)
Human trafficking in Armenia: 28 crime cases in 8 months

The number of cases of human trafficking in Armenia has increased 10 times, Azernews reports, citing local media outlets.

Official statistics also prove the increase in the number of criminal cases. According to the information of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Armenia, the cases of human trafficking or exploitation recorded in January-August 2023 are 10 times more than in the same period last year.

Tigran Kirakosyan, deputy head of the Ministry's Office for the Investigation of Sexual Immunity of Minors and Drug Trafficking Crimes, said that during the 8 months of 2023, the country's Investigative Committee considered 28 criminal cases related to human trafficking or exploitation. In 2022, during the entire year, the investigators of the Investigative Committee reviewed 22 cases. For comparison, let's note that in 2021, 16 criminal cases related to human trafficking were opened, which is 60% more than in 2020.

At the same time, it is noted that the cases of exploitation of minors have been increasing in Armenia in recent years.

In the busy streets of the capital Yerevan, the wholesale sale of napkins, which is not allowed by law and is not controlled by authorities, is flourishing.

Towel consumers are mainly passers-by, drivers who promote this form of sale as an alternative to begging and often leave extra "pocket money" for the offered product. But sometimes questionable forces and personalities lurk behind seemingly "harmless" retail.

Today, two of the real beneficiaries of the travel trade are accused of human trafficking, which is also accused of long-term labor exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people.

"NEWS.am" investigated the criminal case related to human trafficking in the Yerevan General Jurisdiction Court for about three and a half years and found interesting details. Given the sensitivity, anonymity, privacy, and ethical standards of trafficking victims, and the fact that criminal cases are still not legally binding sentences, the names of the victims in the article have been changed and the names of the accused have been presented in capital letters.

It is noted that those who declare themselves "entrepreneurs" are also accused of human trafficking

The couple SM and VO are accused of exploiting minors Ashot and Felix, as well as Artak, who suffers from mental retardation and epilepsy. According to the documents of the court case, Artak, who has serious health problems and does not have a permanent place of residence or work, has been taking money from drivers for parking cars on Saryan Street for a long time.

In November 2018, SM and VO approached Artak and presented themselves as "supervisors" of the intersections of Abovyan and Sayat Nova, Pushkin Streets and Mashtos Avenue in Yerevan. After that, the boy was offered to trade napkins in these areas. Fraudulent entrepreneurs promised the boy a daily income of 15-18 thousand drams (37 - 42 US dollars) and agreed to pay 4-5 thousand drams (10-12 US dollars) every day.

At the same time, knowing that Artak lives on daily earnings, they offered him to live together by paying his daily financial needs from the money he earned. In November 2018, Artak moved to the apartment rented by the couple in the center. After working in such conditions for a while and living on a daily wage, Artak, realizing that he had no money left for personal expenses, asked for money to be left for his expenses, but the couple told him he owed 270,000 drams (676 US dollar) allegedly for utilities and other payments.

It is noted that the couple, using the existence of debts, as well as threats of punishment, forcibly involved Artak in the retail sale of napkins and took all his income from him.

In addition, according to the indictment, SM and VO threatened and regularly beat Artak, forcing him to beg, in return for which they paid an additional 5,000 drams per day. According to the indictment sent to the court, Artak sold napkins even on days when he felt bad, his pockets were searched and beaten.

In another episode, the couple is accused of exploiting the socially vulnerable Ashot and Felix. According to the indictment, the latter engaged in begging in the center of Yerevan, at the intersection of Abovyan and Sayat Nova streets, on Shimal Avenue and in other places, in order to provide basic living conditions.

The court refused to release the couple, and they face a long prison sentence

The aforementioned facts of human trafficking were determined by law enforcement officers in 2019. In May, the couple were charged simultaneously with two counts of the Criminal Code: premeditated conspiracy by a group of persons to inflict or threaten to inflict life-threatening violence.

For the commission of these criminal acts, the Criminal Code provides for up to 12 years of imprisonment. Arrest measures were taken against the couple.

In a letter addressed to the court, the woman, whose name was not mentioned, said that she was a victim of violence and was beaten.

It is noted that victims of human trafficking are not sufficiently protected in Armenia. Studying the experience of the country's human trafficking courts, it is clear that in most cases, victims of human trafficking or witnesses refuse to testify in court before the investigation and provide information confirming the guilt of the accused, often fearing possible reprisals against them. The problem is that victims or witnesses of human trafficking cases do not receive effective and sufficient protection during the preliminary investigation and trial.

The investigation conducted by the Prosecutor's Office of Armenia proves that the cases of exploitation of minors, people with mental health problems, i.e. vulnerable groups, have increased in the country in general. This situation is considered as a positive trend in the fight against human trafficking at the international level, as a rule, it is taken into account that people in that category cannot recognize themselves as victims of human trafficking.

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