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Child trafficking in Moldova

An estimated 1.2 million children worldwide are victims of child trafficking. One of them is Ioana, who was trafficked from Moldova to Ukraine. Natalia Cojocaru, a Moldavian journalist for the newspaper "Timpul" reports.

Article | 15 March 2004

CHISINAU, Moldova – Last year, life for 15 year-old Ioana had become unbearable. Though she was one of the best pupils in her class, she had abandoned school and decided to leave her home and her alcoholic parents, moving in with her grandparents.

One day, while at the market here in the Moldavian capital, she met a woman from a neighbouring village who listened attentively to her woes and proposed that she accompany her to Ukraine where she could find a job.

Customs was no problem. Despite her young age, Ioana was able to cross the border in the company of a stranger, identified only by a birth certificate of a trafficker's (neighbor lady's) daughter.

From September to April 2003, Ioana was forced to sell goods on a market in Ukraine. As compensation, she received a pair of winter clothes and food. Eventually, Ukrainian police who had been searching for her at the request of her mother, found the girl and returned her to her home. Paradoxically, Ioana reportedly told the police she preferred life with the trafficker to her own home, believing life was better on the run than among her alcoholic parents.

Though not entirely typical, Ioana's story is sadly common in this impoverished nation and elsewhere throughout the region. Though the precise number of children trafficked from Moldova and other countries in the area is unknown and data are unavailable from local authorities, the Temporary Centre for Minors in Moscow, Russia, estimates that more than 50 per cent of the children begging on Moscow streets are from Moldova. In 2001, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs registered 500 minors trafficked from Moldova to Russia for begging, of which some had been sexually abused.

The First Annual Report of the Counter-Trafficking Clearing Point (Note 1) reveals that the majority of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation from Moldova to mainly Balkan countries are between 18 and 24 years of age. Other sources say younger children are trafficked to Russia and Ukraine for economic exploitation. The lack of visa requirements for CIS member states facilitates illegal transportation of children within this region.

The International Organization for Migration and the NGO "La Strada" report that 40 per cent of children trafficked to CIS, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania come from abusive, single-parent families or have been in boarding institutions. More than a half are orphans, or lost the contact with their parents.

In either case, they are easy prey for traffickers. Minors are often recruited from rural areas where about 60 per cent face a higher risk of sinking into poverty because of the low productivity and incomes in the agricultural sector affecting the overwhelming majority of rural workers.

Moldova, Romania and Ukraine are reported as most significant sending countries in terms of scale and Albania as a major source and transit country for the trafficking of women and children from the Balkans to Western Europe. To support the Government of Moldova fulfill its commitments under relevant international labour standards governing child labour (Note 2), the ILO included Moldova in the recently launched sub-regional project called "Combating Trafficking of Children for Labour and Sexual Exploitation in the Balkans, Ukraine and Republic of Moldova".

This three-year project will be funded by the Governments of the Unites States and Germany and implemented by the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), a leader in accomplishing of action programs against child Labour.

The project mainly aims at improving capacity of governments, workers and employers' organizations, NGOs and others in civil society concerned about child trafficking to effectively prevent and eliminate child labour, giving priority to its worst forms; to reinforce the existing mechanisms; and to provide for knowledge and experience sharing on child labour and replication of best practices interventions at national and at the sub-regional level.

In line with the provisions of the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in the area of eliminating of child labour, and being committed to ensure in-country "ownership" and sustainability of the IPEC's interventions, the Government of Moldova will create a National Steering Committee (NSC) to observe the achievement by the Government and responsible agencies of the objectives and targets set by the ILO programmes. Participation of various governmental, social and non-governmental partners in the NSC will contribute to the mainstreaming of the issues of working children into all relevant national policies.

Note 1

Note 2 - ILO Minimum Age Convention No. 138 (1973) and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182 (1999).