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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Helping Moldova's deserted children
By Julia Rooke
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

In Moldova, one in six adults has left to work abroad and the children they abandon become rich pickings for human traffickers.

Anna in her village
When Anna was nine her mother left to look for work abroad

Anna is 16. She lives alone in a ramshackle cottage with a cock and a hen called Romeo and Juliet.

She has a small scrap of land where she grows vegetables to feed herself.

"What I missed most in my childhood was toys and the warmth of my mother. I never felt I was loved," she says.

Anna's father has disappeared. Her mother went to work abroad when she was nine, leaving Anna and her 11-year-old brother under the eye of a neighbour.

But when her mother failed to send money home, the neighbour abandoned the children.

Their mother was away for two years.

"We didn't even know if my mother was alive," says Anna. "There were times when we didn't even have bread in the house."

Anna received fire wood and food from her school and the local mayor's office.

Each day a child under the age of seven is abandoned in Moldova.

Youngsters left alone because their parents work abroad have swelled the ranks of orphanages by 10% in recent years.

One in nine children is living with just one parent, relatives or a distant neighbour.

Human traffic

Anna's mother, Galina, is now back in Moldova but she rarely sees her daughter.

Anna and her mother who was trafficked out of Moldova
Galina became caught up in the civil strife in the Balkans
She can earn more in the capital, Chisinau, a three-hour, pot-holed bus ride from the village where Anna lives.

Galina did not wantonly abandon her children. She was trafficked.

Seven years ago she paid a man to get her work as a farm labourer in Portugal.

But instead she ended up in Budapest, Hungary, in a flat with barred windows guarded by armed men.

"When we overheard we were to be sold into prostitution we tried to escape," she says. "But the guards saw our shadows and started to shoot."

She did eventually manage to escape and travelled by train and on foot to Montenegro.

She became an illegal migrant caught up in the civil strife of the Balkans.

In a trembling voice Galina recounted how she met a passing Russian army unit.

She was press-ganged, held at gun point, taken to Kosovo and forced to work as a nurse.

Describing her escape, she says: "There was a very bloody shooting. I saw a lot of people dead. I lay in the back of a truck and pretended to be dead."

Galina reached a hospital, jumped out of the truck to safety and eventually made it back to Moldova.

Similar stories

Martin Wyss, IOM
The best way is to assist those at risk before it's too late
Martin Wyss, IOM

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Moldova helps trafficked people.

Martin Wyss, its chief of mission there says that Galina's story is extraordinary but not unexpected.

"We have come across similar stories in the past," he says.

Moldova has the highest trafficking rate in Europe.

Desperate to earn money and unable to travel freely, 70% of migrants work illegally.

Now back in Moldova, Galina is still unable to earn a living wage.

It was by telling her story to the BBC that she discovered there was help available.

Mr Wyss is concerned about Galina's daughter Anna. At 16, she could be at risk of following in her mother's footsteps.

"The best way is to assist those at risk before it's too late," he says.

"Clearly Anna is an abandoned person deserving of our help."

He said Moldova's abandoned children are rich pickings for the traffickers.

"When we looked at all the backgrounds of trafficking cases, it wasn't the criminal networks, it was the private despair and the abandonment in their own country that ultimately pushed people over the edge," he says.

Raising awareness

Anna in her village
Anna has been offered a summer computer course to help her

Now, in an attempt to tackle the problem, schools and orphanages are holding "life skills" classes to warn children of the dangers.

Churches have also recently joined the campaign.

But Mr Wyss said that the challenge is to convince governments and donors that abandoned children and people like Anna can and should be helped.

"The donors have not understood this. People say you cannot prevent trafficking without raising the living standards of the whole nation. But this is not true."

The IOM has a Western-funded rehabilitation centre in the capital, Chisinau.

It provides a welfare system rarely seen before in Moldova.

The centre has offered Galina free counselling and paid skills training to help her earn a living.

Anna is being offered a summer computer course to give her skills that will help make her less vulnerable to traffickers.

Anna is hopeful: "I think this might be the day that changes my life," she says tearfully.

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 12 April 2007 at 1102 BST.

The programme was repeated on Monday, 16 April at 2030 BST.

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10 Apr 07 |  Crossing Continents
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