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August 12, 2002 · 


Rome — Italy is a main gateway into Europe for children sold into sex slavery, lured from poverty into a trade worth US $7 billion a year world-wide, delegates at a conference on child trafficking were told.

Each year some 6,000 children aged between 12 and 16 are victims of child trafficking, according to a recent study carried out by non-governmental organisation, Terres des Hommes.

Leaving behind desperate poverty in Eastern Europe for the promise of a better future many find themselves sold into forced labour, often sexual exploitation, in western Europe.

Experts say differences in European child law contribute to making Italy a magnet for child exploitation.

The generous provisions for minors under Italian law, who are guaranteed protection and the right to education, are exacerbating a problem they were intended to resolve, said Teresa Albano of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). “The policy stimulates child trafficking. Families push their children to come to Italy so they will be protected and get an education,” she added.

Thousands of immigrants, including children, arrive on Italy’s long coastline seeking an entry point to Europe each year. Experts say that child prostitutes come mainly from Eastern Europe and former Soviet countries including Albania, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Some 37% of female minors trafficked into Italy are Albanian according to the report by Terre des Hommes, followed by Romanian, Moldovan and Nigerian children.

Italy’s centre-right government has made immigration a key policy issue and passed tough new legislation including measures to digitally fingerprint new arrivals and boost coastal patrols.

However, Terre des Hommes and Save the Children estimate that in the months of March and April this year alone almost 700 young
women under the age of consent were working as child prostitutes in Italy.

Many are then moved on to other European countries including Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Barbara Limanowska, an expert on human trafficking, said increasingly sophisticated methods are used by the gangs who buy and sell young girls to evade discovery. “They respond very fast, more and more of the women involved travel with legal documents, are kept in private apartments and use mobile phones to make arrangements,” she said.

Albano said child trafficking was an international problem, combining immigration, security and social policy issues, which needed international co-operation. “It is a complex phenomenon – involving the legislation of the countries where the trafficking begins, transits and ends,” she said.

“But there is a lack of co-ordination. We should learn a lesson from the traffickers. Despite speaking different languages and operating out of different countries they co-operate magnificently.”
(From the files of Reuters News Servicea)


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