Young girls fall victim to human traffic in Moldova

By Kyodo News reporting team, Japan Economic Newswire :

CHISINAU, April 30, 2004

(EDS: The following report on Human traffic in the Republic of Moldova was contributed to Kyodo News by Agnes Chan, the Singer and Japan Unicef Ambassador, who visited Moldova in mid-April.)

With a population of 4.3 million people, Moldova once was called the Switzerland of the Soviet Union.

Cherry and peach trees were in full bloom and giant buildings built during the Soviet era stood in rows in the capital of Chisinau.
The traffic was backed up in the streets and the market was full of life, with material goods and people.

My doubt about whether Moldova was the poorest country in Europe was dispelled the moment I set foot in a village.
Farmers were in front of a house shivering in the cold weather.

The broken door and window remained unfixed.

They appealed to me with one of them saying, "The state used to take care of us with everything fundamentally necessary, including food, education, medical care, electricity and heating, and services. But now, we cannot do anything without money."

Moldavians need the equivalent of $100 a month to subsist but civil service employees' average monthly wage is only $50.

The gap between rich and poor has widened since the country opted for capitalism. I heard that about 30% of the people go out of the country to become migratory workers.

The average hourly wage is a barometer of affluence in Europe, with Denmark topping all others with 3,000 yen and Moldova at the bottom with 40 yen and a jobless rate exceeding 12%.

In the midst of such a situation, children and women are being sold to other nations. Moldova is said to have become the biggest European supplier in human traffic.

With the scheduled expansion of the European Union to 25 member nations in May, there will be further progress in liberalization of the economy and the flow of people.

It is feared that Moldova, which is still a non-EU member, will get the reverberations from such moves and the slave trade may rise.

Titania, 20, is tall, quiet and a beautiful East European woman, with her black hair parted in the middle and pink-colored cheeks.

When she was 16, she said, she ran away from home because she could not stand her alcoholic parents' quarrels.

While she was riding a bus bound for Chisinau, the driver told her she could get a good job in a foreign country.

She said she received a passport from him, and when she arrived in Moscow by train, she met a Moldavian and was taken to an apartment where she found girls from her country. She was forced into prostitution the moment she went there.

"Even when it was snowing, I was forced to wear clothes that exposed my skin," Titania said. "It was really cold. When I couldn't earn much money, they beat my face and body until I got bruises. Even then, they forced me to work."

She tried to escape three times in a period of two and a half years. Then she realized she was pregnant and fled to the house of a Russian friend. Afraid of her pursuers, she did not go to a hospital and delivered her baby herself.

She ran into the embassy for the sake of the baby and finally made it home. Unsophisticated girls like Titania are the perfect targets for flesh traffickers.

The International Organization for Migration, which is active with UNICEF, has helped 1,200 victims of human traffic rehabilitate in the past three years.

The global slave trade is in its "fourth wave," spreading to Europe following Asia, Central and South America, and Africa.

An advertisement in a job recruitment magazine in Moldova two months ago said: "a Japanese club is looking for dancers."
The ad may already have caused some girls grief in Japan.

Natalia is 16 and started going to school this year with the aid of UNICEF.

Natalia, who never went to school before, is in first grade with her 7-year-old sister.

They live in a family of five in a mud and straw house in a village. The father is unemployed and the family's monthly income is 300 lei (about 3,000 yen) the mother gets for working on a farm.

Their three meals during the day I visited them consisted of only tomato and potato soup.
Three years ago, physically impaired Natalia was enticed to go to Poland and put to work as a beggar. A foreigner approached her at a bus stop in Chisinau while her mother was in a toilet.

Natalia thought of her family who had not enough to eat and agreed to go with the stranger.

"I begged every day at a lively crossing or in a market," she said. "I worked very hard thinking I could make money but a watchman took the money away as soon as I got it. I didn't get any money."

Natalia, who drags her foot, said she was beaten and did not get enough food but could not escape.

She endured this for three years before she went to the police for help.
Katia, 17, goes to a rehabilitation center that is supported by UNICEF.

When she was 16, a woman in her neighborhood talked her into working as a jewelry salesperson in Moscow. But when she and the woman arrived in Chisinau, the woman sold her to a broker for 100 lei.

She was forced to work from morning to night selling imitation jewelry in Moscow.

"I didn't get any pay and wasn't allowed to eat if I failed to sell jewelry. A watchman hit me all over my body with a stick if I talked back to him."
A head injury she suffered after the watchman struck her with a bottle of vodka three months after she arrived in Moscow enabled her to explain her situation to her doctor in a hospital.

She escaped from the hospital, kept running in a frozen forest in the Russian capital, changed trains and returned to Moldova almost half dead.

Giovanna Barberis, Moldova representative of UNICEF, said, "Drugs can only be sold once but women and children can be sold a number of times. Many children are being sold for prostitution, begging, selling material goods, adoption, and organ transplants and (are taken to) EU countries, Balkan nations, Russia, Turkey and to Arab countries. It is important first of all to educate parents and children and prevent this."

Journalist Alina Rudu, who has reported on the slave trade on the BBC, said it is very dangerous to make contacts with a network of human traffic because crime organizations are behind it.

Rudu said a hospital has been established in the Ukraine to extract ova from Moldovan girls for research on clone technology, and there is a group in Moldova that sends women to Japan.

Some 400 complaints against human traffic have been filed in the past three years but the authorities in Moldova have accepted only 32 of them for legal procedures.

A UNICEF official said some people search for missing children who have parents and homes to return to but children without parents face the most serious danger.

Currently, 1.2 million children are victims of the slave trade in the world.

It is urgently necessary for Japan to upgrade its domestic laws to stamp out human traffic.