Monday, December 13, 2010

Root Cause Of Child Vulnerability To Human Trafficking (continued)

by Iana Matei with Pam Pyne

(continued from December 6, 2010)

The root cause of children being lured by human traffickers isn’t poverty. It’s dysfunctional families living in the midst of poverty.  Iana Matei

When slave traders, transported 18 year old Sylvia, a virgin, from Romania to Italy with the intension of selling her into prostitution, the role her family played in her heroic escape illustrates this point.

Review from last week:  Sylvia’s widowed mother can’t afford to send her brilliant daughter on to higher education. An elderly woman from the small Romanian village where she and her seven children live offers to send Sylvia out to Italy where her own son and daughter have opened a restaurant. The woman assures Sylvia’s mother that in two years, Sylvia will make enough money to come back and attend one of Romania’s best schools.  When Sylvia arrives in Italy, she is made to share a room with the son. After dodging his advances all night, the next morning, she discovers there is no restaurant and the daughter of the elderly woman exposes the real motivation for bringing Sylvia to Italy.

      “Before you can start making money for yourself, you’ll need to pay us back for your trip out of Romania. You didn’t think that came for free did you?  There are several men around here who will enjoy a girl like you enough to pay well.  You’ll need to pay us back first, then after that, you can keep the money for yourself.”
      Sylvia considered running from the house at night while the brother and sister slept. Where could she go? She didn’t speak Italian and the traffickers had taken her documents.  She’d need to play things smart. She began flirting with the son.
      “Can I rub your shoulders tonight? I can’t have sex with you yet because I’m in the middle of my period.  But in a few days, it’ll be OK. I’d rather my first time be with you, someone I know.”
      That night, when the son had fallen asleep, Sylvia took his cell phone from the nightstand and went into the bathroom. Quickly, she dialed her mother’s number in Romania. Her mother’s sleepy voice answered.
    Sylvia whispered into the phone,  “Momma, I’m in trouble. I’m not going to work in the restaurant like they said. They want me to have sex with strangers and give them the money afterwards.”
       Her mother sucked in her breath. “Are you OK? Have they hurt you? Do you know the name of the street the house is on? I’ll call the police here and see if they can call the police in Italy and get you out of there. Don’t panic. Act like you’re cooperating and I’ll try to find a way to help you. Remember, we love you here, no matter what happens to you there.”
      The next morning, Sylvia pretended to go along with the plan.
      “Could you give me a complete list of expenses that I have to pay back? I want to get to work on this as soon as possible so I can pay it off and start to earn money for myself. I saw so many nice things in the shop windows as we came through town.”
      “What is the address here? I need to know how to pronounce the name of the street in case I get lost. I want to practice saying it.”
      She walked around the house all day rolling the double r’s off her tongue.
       That night she said to the son casually, “Only another couple of days and we can be together, then after that, I can start working. I think I’ll do well with this. I’ll have you paid off in no time and then I’ll explore Italy. I’ll know the language by then and I might even make a few friends.”
      When the son fell asleep, Sylvia took his cell phone off the nightstand and snuck into the bathroom with it again. This time she dialed the same number for emergency that she would have dialed in Romania. “Dear God, please let it be the same number here!”
       Sylvia let out a sigh of relief when the woman on the other end of the line said something rushed in Italian. Since the Romanian and Italian languages are similar, Sylvia and the operator had an opaque understanding of one another. Sylvia gave the woman the address where she was staying.
    “Problema, Problema!” Sylvia kept repeating.
      The woman understood enough to know that Sylvia needed help and she alerted the police. They arrived within 20 minutes and knocked on the door.
The daughter opened the door and stared at the police defiantly, her lips pursed tight and her eyes narrowed
“Why have you woke my household at this hour? What is this all about? You’ll wake the entire neighborhood if you’re not careful.”
       “What are you doing? Stop that!” she shouted as the police slapped handcuffs on her wrists and tossed her onto the corner armchair.
      “Stay there while we fetch your brother.” The daughter glanced at the door, hoping to make a run for it, but one look at the big burley policeman blocking the doorway convinced her to keep her seat.
      The other two police officers brushed past Sylvia and ran down the hall into the bedroom. One of the officers caught the brother’s foot as he attempted to climb out the window and dragged him back inside.
      “You’re under arrest for human trafficking and forced prostitution.” They cuffed the young man as he shouted, “This is all about discrimination, isn’t it? This is because we’re from Romania, isn’t it?  
      Sylvia watched as the officers stuffed both the brother and the sister into a patrol car. As the car lurched forward, Sylvia caught the eye of the sister and barely resisted the urge to stick out her tongue.

      Today, the elderly woman,  son and the daughter are all in jail awaiting trial. Sylvia has agreed to testify against them.
Iana’s shelter is covering Sylvia’s educational expenses making it possible for Sylvia to finish her education.
     While cleaver thinking aided Sylvia in her escape from her captors, her mother’s assurance that she wouldn’t be blamed or shunned for what happened to her motivated her efforts to escape.
      As parents, weather we are married, single, divorced, widowed, rich, poor or middle-class, the most effective protection against human trafficking we can offer a child stems from an atmosphere of love and stability in the home.

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