Editor’s Note: In recent years, Americans have become increasingly aware of the heinous reality of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. What many do not know is that this important issue is often linked to the plight of orphaned and abandoned children, who are significantly more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.
The following article was written by Caleb Loomis, a Government major at Patrick Henry College with a concentration in International Politics and Policy. Last summer, Caleb served as an intern at Romania Reborn. We’re grateful for the many hours he invested in our ministry, including researching the connection between child abandonment and human trafficking. For more in-depth reading, source documents are linked.
Romanian children are surfacing throughout Europe as beggars, thieves, and prostitutes. The Romanian mafia (and other international criminal groups) recruit these children from the streets and proceed to exploit them for maximum profit.
The Roma ethnic population—often referred to as “gypsies”—are among Romania’s most vulnerable. Living on the streets, Romani children are an easy target for criminal networks. Uncared for by their birth parents, these children are left to protect themselves.
In 2001 Romania suspended international adoption, eventually banning it in 2004. Romani children are adversely impacted, because most Romanian families will not consider adopting a child of Romani background. The Roma are subject to acute discrimination, although the majority of abandoned children are Romani.
Child abandonment is so common that 70,000 Romania children are growing up in an institution, rather than a home. The lucky ones are abandoned at hospitals, where they may be adopted as infants. Once institutionalized, their chances of finding a family quickly fade.
Corina Caba, founder of Hope House Family Center in Oradea, believes that there is no substitute for a functional family. Children need the love and safety of a home. Romanian youth who have been denied a family—whether due to bereavement or abandonment—deserve to have a home. Caba is passionate about finding a permanent, caring family for every displaced child within her influence.
When interviewed, Caba expressed her concern over the sale and purchase of children. Some parents “rent” their babies to the Romanian mafia. The infants are drugged into passivity and used by professional beggars to conjure greater sympathy and donations. Caba also purports that Romanian children are smuggled abroad to beg for money.
Caba concedes that she is overwhelmed. The task of finding a home for Romanian youth is more than social services can handle, let alone one non-governmental organization (NGO). She pleads for Christians everywhere to pray. If only two families from every Romanian church extended their home to a child, the Romanian orphan crisis would subside.
Most of these children are not technically orphans, however. They have parents. In order to be eligible for adoption, social workers must find all of a child’s living relatives, and all must express a desire to have no relationship with the child. In the case of an abandoned child, this is no simple task. Consequently, less than 3% of children in Romania’s care are eligible for adoption.
Once the children turn two years old, they are transferred to state residence where children are seldom adopted. At age 18, they graduate from state residences and are afforded no national assistance. Poorly equipped to enter a competitive workforce, graduates will be forced to take unusual risks to survive. They are ripe for criminal exploitation.
Due to its geographical position between the East and the West, Romania acts as a gateway to Europe. The European Commission purports that Romanian children are smuggled into Italy, Spain, and Germany—where they are forced by their handlers to steal, beg, and prostitute themselves.
The US identifies Romania as a major supplier of forced labor in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report. The report not only highlights Romania’s failure to assist exploited children, but notes a distressing trend: “The prevalence of children in the victim population increased from 319 [in 2011] to 370 in 2012.” The report also includes this chilling finding: “Traffickers who recruit and exploit Romanian citizens are overwhelmingly Romanian themselves, typically seeking victims from the same ethnic group or within their own families.” (Emphasis added.)
The U.S. Embassy in Romania notes similar trends. Officials report that criminal groups have become increasingly sophisticated. Law enforcement is encountering new patterns, as Romanian children are being moved in greater numbers to more locations.
Since Romania’s admission to the EU in 2007, smuggling minors internationally has become easier. Border regulations have been reduced, making the illicit transport of human cargo possible. Bribery and the use of fake ID’s at the border is not uncommon or unsuccessful. Moreover, specialized law enforcement has all but vanished. As of 2009, the National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons was defunded. Consequently, Romania’s children are being exploited in growing numbers.
David Batstone, co-founder of Not for Sale (an international anti-slavery group), reported to CNN that: “By and large, local police turn a blind eye to these crimes and social services for the victims are practically nonexistent.” While Romania officially prohibits the transportation of individuals for purposes of forced labor (Law No. 678/2001), it has poorly enforced this standard.
Aftercare programs, designed to re-integrate victims into society, are also underfunded. No government grants are allocated to NGOs. Privately-funded NGOs are still able to effectively serve victim populations, however. Not for Sale runs an extensive rehabilitation program without government grants. Similarly, Hope House is able to shelter abandoned children—while trying to place them in a permanent family—because of magnanimous donors through the U.S. nonprofit Romania Reborn. But NGOs like Not for Sale and Hope House are the anomaly.
Batstone concludes, “Whenever the poor and vulnerable do not have access to legal justice, they will be exploited.” Until Romania expedites its adoption laws and facilitates strong aftercare programs, Romanian youth will be exposed to unnecessary risks.