The Moldova Project: Anti-Human Trafficking Initiative in Michigan
Imagine living among barren wasteland where families once grew crops in rich, fertile soil. Imagine desolate towns, ravaged by unemployment, peppered with vacant buildings that serve as reminders of previously thriving factories. Even worse, imagine families torn apart by human trafficking, a trade in which even government entities are involved because the cash flow is so great. The money yielded by human trafficking means nobody is safe from its merciless reach - infants, children, adolescents, even adults are ruthlessly sold to anyone willing to pay.
This is Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, nestled between Romania and Ukraine. In the last 10 years, 50 percent of its population has fled in desperate search of work. This desperation, however, has fueled another movement, one that leaves many of Moldova’s citizens subject to increasingly common prey.
“It is not uncommon for someone to approach a person in Moldova and offer him or her work in another country,” explains Nadia, a young citizen of Moldova pursuing her Master’s degree in clinical psychology. “A woman might be told she’ll work as a housekeeper or waitress in Italy, Dubai, or Turkey, while a man is likely to be told he’ll work in construction in one of these same countries. The approaching person then offers to pay for the citizen’s airline ticket, passport, and necessary papers to leave Moldova and begin his or her new life.”
But the reality of that new life rarely matches the description. Instead of finding themselves in ideal employment situations, the former citizens of Moldova become the property of pimps who purchased them when they left their homes. Not only are these people left with neither work nor shelter, but they’re isolated from family members and forced to “repay” the debts for their moving expenses. The pimp also makes it clear he must be compensated for the ongoing costs of food, clothing, and shelter. In other words, scare tactics enable pimps to prostitute their new commodities on street corners and in brothels with little or no protest.
Like adults, children are prime targets for the European sex trade. In addition to the sheer vulnerability of these youngsters, many live in Moldovan orphanages that are cramped, mismanaged, and abusive. The orphanages give shelter to children whose parents have left them, but they offer little besides poor nutrition and a sub-par education.
“Officially, at age 18, children are forced to leave the orphanages,” Nadia says. “Many unofficially find themselves on the street at much earlier ages. One option available through the orphanages is an aptitude test that, if passed, grants entrance to a public high school. This sets the child up to attend college and hopefully enter the workforce. But if the child fails the test, he or she is forced out of the orphanage and often subjected to human trafficking.”
Sex tourism - in which people travel for the explicit purpose of engaging in sex - is another huge component of human trafficking. Under the guise of traditional resorts, sex tourist attractions allow visitors to arrange sex with, more often than not, children. These resorts operate under simple guidelines and benefit every sector of a country’s travel industry. Some regions of the world add sex tourism to their existing tourist attractions and profit from a multi-billion dollar industry that exploits an estimated 2 million children annually.
Tomorrow, I'll discuss an agency based in Michigan that is attempting to curtail human trafficking in Moldova.