Human trafficking: still a grave issue in Bulgaria

Date: 2009-02-10

Victims of trafficking are often the most vulnerable and unprotected, namely women and children. Developing countries and countries in transition are most affected by this problem.

Attracted by well-paid job advertisements and better life opportunities young girls fall prey to trafficking. They lose their freedom, identity and dignity, and turn into money machines by selling their bodies. Sometimes victims of trafficking become organ donors against their will. According to Prosecutor general’s figures some 197 identified victims, 23 being under age, testified against traffickers only last year. “It is a real challenge to identify victims and enlist them in protection and support programmes”, says Antoaneta Vassileva, Secretary of the National Commission for Combating Human Trafficking with the Council of Ministers.

“Very often children who have been subjected to violence in their families become trafficking victims,” she explains. “Children deprived of parental care are a particularly vulnerable group since they haven’t got parents or any social experience. Main destination countries are Greece and the United Kingdom. We also have cases of children transfered to France and Austria. Bulgaria and Austria created a very good cooperation mechanism to prevent such cases but the problem is still on the agenda. Unfortunately, there are children who have been victims twice. We identified them, took them back to Bulgaria, and offered them protection. Then they returned to their families or care centers. The State Agency for Child Protection issued an ordinance that forbade these children to leave the country and still they became victims of trafficking. These are mainly children of Roman origin. In most cases their parents actively participate in the trafficking: they are either the traffickers or are well aware of the trafficking. To cross Bulgarian borders the under aged must have a companion. When authorities caught them stealing or begging abroad the children claim to be alone there. Nobody cares for them and we take them back to Bulgaria. However, when we accommodate them in centers and enlist them in protection and support programmes, relatives show up and claim rights.”

The National Commission for Combating Human Trafficking worked on seven cases with babies who were taken to Greece last year.

“Greece has been having some serious demographic problems over the recent years,” says Antoaneta Vassileva. ”Trafficking of pregnant women to sell their babies is a very profitable business. A newly born sells at 5 to 15000 EUR. Some of the pregnant are terribly misled. They go for a living abroad and give birth to a child there. Then they learn their children have died, when in fact they have been sold. These women have filed complaints and have turned to Bulgarian authorities. Greece is also attractive for human trafficking because adoption laws are extremely liberal there. A Greek citizen can adopt a child only by declaring that he is the father before a judge or a doctor.”

How dangerous is Internet surfing with respect to human trafficking?

“It is a very specific media,” says Antoaneta Vassileva. “There hasn’t been any attempt to traffic people via the net. We cooperate actively with the Cybercrime Department with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Together with the State Agency for Child Protection we launched a campaign under the motto “You don’t know who is on the other end” to alert and inform Internet subscribers about possible threats. The National Employment Agency will join our bigger 2009 campaign in this direction because many young people aged 16 to 18 look for summer jobs outside Bulgaria. We received a few calls concerning dubious job advertisements last year, so now we are going to pay special attention to this potential trafficking media to protect young people.”

Since Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 a directive relating to compensation to crime victims has been adopted. The victims of trafficking are entitled to free legal and psychological counseling as well as to damages amounting up to 10 000 leva (some 5000EUR). Yet, nobody has filed an application relating the compensation of trafficking victims so far, because people are poorly aware that such a directive exists.

Written by Diana Hristakieva
Translated by Vyara Popova


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