Moldova’s Human Trafficking Story

At the a trafficking convention in Washington, CRS Country Representative for Moldova Michael McKennitt told the story of Moldova’s transformation with storybook charm

Once upon a time in a country far, far way in Eastern Europe there’s a story with no princesses, no frogs, and no castles. In Moldova, a country that looks like Iowa, there’s a sad and happy story. Moldova is a country if you’re a farmer, you’ll feel at home and if you’re not a farmer you’re wonder what you’re doing there.

In Moldova they speak Romanian. More than 60 percent of the population live in little villages. In those little villages there is no electricity and people live on less than a dollar a day. It is in those little villages Moldova is experiencing the terrible problem of human trafficking.


The little country of Moldova was part of the Soviet Block. Because it was an agricultural country it became the most densely populated country in Eastern Europe. And it is from this little country that the largest proportion of women trafficked for sex are recruited to work throughout Europe. This little country also has high numbers of trafficked children and trafficking in organs. But this is not the happy part of the story. This is just the context for the bigger story I’m about to tell.

CRS has been working in Moldova for 4 years. When we began our work we went out and interviewed 600 rural girls from the ages of 16-25. Our interviews showed that they knew a lot about trafficking. They told us no matter what you do, no matter what you offer us we’ll still leave. 60-80 percent said, “when we finish school we are leaving our rural villages. We are going to leave Moldova.”

“Our schools are collapsing,” they told us. “The curriculum was put into place by the Soviet Union. We don’t learn what we need to work for modern employers.”

Family structures had collapsed from migration. No one was safe from the poverty and lack of opportunities. The girls knew the conditions of trafficking but they equated that reality with the experience that they were having in their own villages. The youth had no sense of social investment or ownership in their communities. The quality of life was disintegrating. The heating and electrical systems were getting worse, so was the sewage. With all these push factors the young women said “this is the reason we are leaving, and there is nothing you can do for us.”

I talked to one 16 year-old girl. I asked her to describe what it felt like to be in the village. She said, “see that table what does it look like to you?” “flat,” I said and she replied, “tip that table a little bit and that’s how I feel. I can see the end of my life and that’s not how I want to live.” The feeling of hopelessness was prevalent.

Our goal became to spread hope. We were told we couldn’t do it. “There are no jobs,” they told us.  “The incomes are low in Moldova”. In little Moldova 30 to 40 percent of the economy is based on remittance checks.

The challenge was how to create jobs? CRS didn’t have jobs. We didn’t have money. Our pockets were empty. People told us there were no jobs, but it wasn’t true. We surveyed employers and there were jobs. But they didn’t want to employ youth because they didn’t have skills and they told us even if they did have skills the youth would just leave anyway.

So we went back to the youth and said, “there are jobs,” and the youth said, “But they won’t pay us enough.” So we asked, “what is enough?” And the young people said, “100, 200, 300 euros.”  We went back to the employers and told them this. The employers said, “we pay that, but they don’t have skills.” So we created a marriage. CRS acted as a facilitator of the process. We demonstrated to the communities that there were jobs or they could create them, and that they had sufficient resources to leverage the projects they needed to provide skills, training and create jobs. And through that they could avoid or address the root causes of high migration that increase vulnerabilities to trafficking. Because traffickers are somewhat like crocodiles, they wait along the borders and thoroughfares, and when people try and cross them a certain number get eaten.

So we began employment generation programs and training for sustainable livelihoods. With these projects we helped young women to find opportunities, to get training and employment, and beyond that to get through the sustainable livelihood program, a means to address the gaps in their lives and to create durable foundations for fruitful living. We concluded that they all had sufficient knowledge of trafficking, but they didn’t have the understanding of how to put the pieces together and how to become more durable and able to resist schemes, and if they did suffer trauma like being trafficked how to deal with those traumas in a successful way.

One girl told us, “when you have a job you feel like a real person.”

We believe strongly that prevention should go beyond awareness training. We should push the envelope of what is prevention. We look at the push factors. Awareness alone doesn’t help. What are the things that are pushing people out? How can we engage those in ways that help empower people to resolve their own issues?

In the end we will never how many victims there really are, because the surveys and the anecdotal stories and statistical information from law enforcement agencies, and international agencies only measure the little stream and not the whole river. They measure the stream of only those who have been the most damaged. Those caught in police stings. They only measure the people who come forward. There are many victims who don’t see themselves as victims, they just see themselves as people who have made horrible mistakes and simply want help to correct their stories. Not everyone is shattered. Many just want to restart their lives.

– Sara Fajardo, CRS communications officer

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