- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

Agnes Chan, who serves as an ambassador for UNICEF Japan, visited Moldova, also known as Moldavia, in April to study the trafficking-of-humans issues. She spoke to Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about her visit.

Question: How extensive is human trafficking in Moldova?

Answer: UNICEF supports a rehabilitation center [there], and since it opened in 2000, we have received 1,300 women and children. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Every year, about 30 to 50 children come home in coffins. We don’t know exactly how many children are killed after being smuggled illegally across borders.

Q: Why are they moved across?

A: The main purpose of trafficking children is for the sex trade. They are also sold to beg or sell trinkets on the streets, to supply organs for transplants, and for illegal adoptions. There are many reasons children are sold, but for Moldovan children — mostly girls — they are trafficked for the sex trade.

[A psychologist at the rehabilitation center] told me about some cases of children being re-sold. For example, one girl was first sold to a buyer in Turkey, then sold again to a buyer in Greece and later to one in Poland. Because some of the girls were beaten so badly, even when they were pregnant, some of their children were born disabled.

There were girls who tried to commit suicide. Because they usually jump from apartment windows or porches, some of them die and many are crippled. It’s a very difficult situation for these girls because they don’t speak the language of the countries they are sent to, and they are locked up or have people watching them all the time.

They don’t have money. They don’t have a passport. What their captors provide is drugs, alcohol, cigarettes. And they get sick. Many are infected with sexually transmitted diseases. They lose hope. They can’t go to the police, because they think they are criminals. They can’t go home because they are ashamed to see their family. It’s terrible.

Q: Who are the traffickers?

A: The first contact person is usually someone they know, a relative or somebody who lives in the same village. They’ll tell children: “I can find you work abroad if you follow me. Don’t tell your parents. Let’s go.”

Then these girls will follow the broker and are sold at a train or bus station. Then they are passed on to the next person. … The real trafficker there is a mafia [setup].

We believe their international networks are very strong. They have very strong international networks in Europe, the Balkans, Russia, Japan and America.

Q: Is the Moldovan government aware of the magnitude of the problem?

A: The Moldovan government has finally recognized that this is a real problem. Because one third of its people are working abroad, it’s very easy for young people to be abused.

Q: Why are so many Moldovans living abroad?

A: Because the economy isn’t picking up. Since Moldova became independent in 1991, the country’s economic situation has deteriorated and the livelihood of the people is very bad.

They say about 12 percent of Moldovans are unemployed, but that doesn’t include the 30 percent who are abroad, so most of the people don’t have a real job.

Q: What should be done to deter trafficking?

A: We believe that prevention is very important. We have to build a strong family support system. We think that if a family is strong, it becomes much more difficult for traffickers to lay their hands on the children. So we try to support families.

If a family is already broken, we try to support the children, to make them independent and to make them understand that traffickers are trying to trick them.

We also think it is important to try to find and save as many children sold abroad as possible. For this, we need a lot of international help. We need the help of laws — laws that can be enforced in other countries to save children.

We need international help to get the children back to their own countries. After that, we need facilities to rehabilitate them. After rehabilitation, we still need a place for the children to go to — either back home, back to school, or find a job for them.

Many of the children come back as mothers. They have already have a child of their own, so the problem is very complex.

We need help from everywhere. Most of all, we need governments to really understand the situation and cooperate at every step.

[Editor’s note: Ms. Chan’s credentials on issues facing women and children are unusual. Born in Hong Kong in the 1950s, she became a pop singing star at 14. Three years later a Japanese recording company invited her to Tokyo, where she quickly became a music idol. She took a break from work to earn a degree in psychology from the University of Toronto. Later, back in Japan, married and with a young child, she continued singing but generated fierce controversy for bringing her baby and an attendant with her to work, and for nursing the infant backstage between performances. Conservative Japanese males said she should stay home and raise the child properly, while feminists said a celebrity with a maid and limousine had no business speaking for working women. Her response was to interrupt her career and earn a Ph.D. from Stanford University; her doctoral thesis was about the job-family conflicts of working mothers.]

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