Reality and Process of Trafficking of Romanian Minors in Relation to Migration

Reality and Process of Trafficking of Romanian Minors in Relation to Migration

by Olivier Peyroux, sociologist[1]

The purpose of this article is analyzing and understanding the mechanisms leading to the exploitation of Romanian migrant minors.

In developing our research we had recourse to:
- the observations and interviews with young people, their families and the organizations responsible for their protection in the country of origin and the countries of destination,
 - scientific work,
- press articles and other information documents.

As the theme chosen might incite value judgments, two pitfalls should be avoided: the stigmatization of the whole of Romanian migrants and a culturalist reading regarding Romanians and Roma justifying or condoning the situation without trying to analyze.

For the first point, it is easy to demonstrate with the help of some figures that the population we are interested in is a very small minority compared to the whole of the Romanian diaspora often invisible to the public, because very well integrated.

According to the census of the Romanian population of 2002, the diaspora to the Western Europe  is between 4 and 7 million people. The groups entailing risks of exploitation of minors represent less than 5% of this whole. We must therefore be wary of any generalization concerning Romanian migrants, who, in fact, are extremely heterogeneous (business managers, students, political refugees, entrepreneurs, workers,…). Concerning the Romanian Roma we may recall that the myth of an exodus to the West is inaccurate, as according to highest estimates the migrants would represent a maximum of 10% of this population estimated at approximately two million people[2].

Regarding the distinction between the non-Roma Romanians and Roma people, we have chosen to describe the strategies put in place by groups of migrants without reference to this distinction. In fact, cultural heterogeneity among different groups of Romanian Roma and among Romanians makes any attempt futile and stigmatizing. Furthermore, the choice of strategies related to migration is limited, many groups, although culturally different, have similar behavior.

Taking these precautions, it is important to clarify the limits of this article. In order to better describe the process we have opted for historical, economic and sociological simplification. The strategies described are among the most common but are far from exhaustive. For the purpose of clarity, they are presented in a distinct and chronological way; however, in practice, there are many combinations.

The first two parts of this article shall relate to the process of adaptation of certain groups to socio-economic changes taking place in Romania and leading to the trafficking of minors. After a broad presentation, we will discuss in more detail the individual and family strategies of entering and leaving the systems of exploitation.

I/ Redistribution of the social conditions and the emergence of migration strategies involving the risk of exploitation of children

 The collapse of the communist regime and the transition to the market economy resulted in a deep social reorganization. The categories of the Romanian active population most affected by these changes have been the workers, peasants and craftsmen. In these three groups we find both Roma and non-Roma Romanians. For these people, the loss of their jobs following the restructuring of State-owned enterprises, the dismantling of the agricultural industry, associated to a lack of social protection has forced them to return to the land and to particularly exhausting manual labor[3]. Among these categories, migration has often become the only dreamed strategy for social advancement and the only means of escape from undesirable, non-profitable and often painful activities.
Until the years 2000, namely before the abolition of short stay visas[4], access to the Schengen area for Romanians without qualification coming from villages required a genuine logistics and a solid network of acquaintances. Some villages have then organized around the migration activity. Among the first Certeze (Satu Mare county), north-west of the country, is probably the most known, but there is also Separaus (Arad county), to the west, the origin of Roma migrants of Montreuil, Borsa and Marginea (Suceava county), to the east, wherefrom a part of the villagers  went to Milan, also those from the village of Corod (Galati county), south-east, who went to Padua, those of Sambata de Sus (Tara Fagarasului), in the north, who went to Rome and the Lazio region, those of Dobrotesti (Teleorman county), in the south, who went to Coslada, near Madrid, of Dragasani (Valcea county), who went to Jerusalem [5]

These villages have often common characteristics:
 - the habit of mobility prior to the communist period, for labor export
 - a strong feeling of identity making villagers to consider themselves as belonging to a minority. This position is often reinforced by the adoption of a different religion than Christian-Orthodox
 - Individual conformism to strategies adopted by the group

In these communities, which we can qualify as pioneers, the normative aspect of the group induces a process of self-exclusion from the Romanian protection systems, rendering migration the only possible future. The mechanism is the following: adults leave, the children remain with their mother or their grandparents. The first signs of material success appear in the village by the construction of houses, reinforcing then the group in its strategy of migration. Children are less and less motivated to go to school, as they already know that in order to “succeed” they must leave. The education becomes optional, the young people do not get the professional qualifications needed to be employable in Romania. By migrating they leave the social protection system because they do not possess their “employment record book” [6], which renders even more complex the insertion back into their country of origin. A sort of migration-dependency develops then, as there are no other real alternatives anymore, a situation that favors all kinds of deviant behavior in order to satisfy increasingly important and irrational material needs. The looting of Parisian ticket-machines in 2002 by minors from Oas region (many of them from Certeze) is an spectacular illustration. In fact, from the beginning of the 90s the adults of this region went to the West in order to try to earn money, some of them working in the building industry, others selling newspapers beside supermarket entrances[7]. The money earned allows building new storey after storey of their houses.
The houses of the migrants impress the villagers who remain in the country to the point that some families decide to send abroad some of their members, preferably unmarried boys able to work (around 16). Some people see in this new labor force that is easy to exploit and manipulate a windfall to earn a lot of money. Different types of exploitation are set into place: undeclared employment of young persons, petty crime from looting of ticket machines to male prostitution. Back in the villages, more and more new and shiny houses start flowering creating a form of competition between families for having the most expensive house. The villagers who were reluctant to send their children let themselves persuaded and each turns its eyes from the origin of the money, dazzled by the material success which serves social status.

This type of group migration has represented and represents a strategy that could lead to the exploitation of Romanian minors. The shift from group migration to exploitation appears when intermediaries, often from the same village, use a vulnerable category to bypass the legislation of the country of destination for their own material interest.
After a relative economic development and better information of families, this phase tends to disappear, as families become reluctant to submitting themselves to some individuals. Each person then resumes its share of autonomy in relation to the group and puts in place his own strategies. The process goes from a phase that we will call "collective exploitation" to a phase of “family emancipation” or even a phase of "individual emancipation". Adults have found work for a "boss," children that entered an institution finished their formation; the members of the family decide to continue together or start keeping one’s distance. Finally, the group of villagers will return to normal and each family is well inserted in the country of origin as well as in the country of destination. However, this phase of adaptation has often very serious consequences for those who experience it. Many adults have serious medical problems while many young people who have not succeeded their insertion into the country of destination get into vagrancy for long periods and their activities of survival are damaging their physical health and sometimes their mental health.

II/ Open frontiers: arrival of more vulnerable populations and the development of systems of exploitation

After 2002, Romania has entered a phase of mass privatization and little regulated market economy. The consequences have been a price increase for energy and consumer’s goods. In addition, after 2007, with the country’s accession to the EU, the model of family agriculture in which the least qualified part of the population has searched a refuge is no longer appropriate to the new norms and entails the incapacity to sell products to the agriculture and food production and distribution chains. Villages need to find new strategies of subsistence within a State which provides insufficient protection to the most deprived populations. Earning enough money is more and more difficult without effective health allocation and coverage and with obsolete professional qualifications. Migration becomes then a solution, more accessible than before, thanks to the freedom of movement. This new fact will represent a bargain for ill-intentioned already installed migrants who are going to impose themselves, against remuneration, as an intermediate in all stages of the migration process. In these population groups who decide to leave as entire families or to send their children to earn money abroad, the lack of reliable network of acquaintances on the spot will often lead the process of exploitation of children. These families arrive abroad in difficult situations, in a very competitive context and a hostile environment:
-                           children not attending school in Romania often as soon as the primary classes and parents with a low level of education,
-                           saturation of the illegal labor market in the countries of destination and extremely complex access to legal employment[8],
-                           migration structured by compatriots who make people with no family networks  pay for all services,
-                           emergence of very developed exploitation systems which make entire families prisoners of certain groups.
-                           finally, decrease of social protection in the country of destination.

The contribution of minors then becomes, little by little, very necessary to family income. Their ability to bring in money being often greater than that of the adults, particularly in periods of massive unemployment, different groups seek to take over these young people for the purposes of exploitation.

III/ Different forms of family exploitation

Depending on constraints experienced by the family, the use of the work of minors is very variable. It must be pointed out that the majority of migrant families are trying to do everything to ensure their children access to normal schooling, but some poor groups face economic necessities that they can not cope with without use of all the members of the family including the youngest of them. In most cases families contract debts toward neighbors as they need an income to satisfy immediate needs. The amounts are variable and the children help their parents after school and in the weekend by begging or selling flowers. This practice concerns largely the Roma families, where the mother and the children ensure the daily financial supplies for the current expenses of the family.

Among the groups recently arrived and not benefiting from any aid network some must pay every month a high price of stay, which creates a pressure on all the members of the family. Minors must bring their contribution and often this leads to lack of schooling and dangerous activities (hard jobs, begging up to late hours, theft, prostitution). To avoid these different forms of racketeering, families who do not have access to aid networks decide to get out of the group and often are lodging in free but extremely precarious conditions and subsequently are turning to the social services for help and ensure a minimum of social protection. In Paris, several families with very young children are installed on the pave of the North train station since the beginning of winter 2008 in order to avoid paying the intermediaries. Others decide to try their luck in other countries or return to Romania and wait for new opportunities.

The systems related to the camata[9] (system of contracting debt) pose threats to the family and lead to very violent forms of exploitation of children. Contrary to conventional borrowing, the harshest camata have the function of making a family totally dependent towards its creditor or of ensuring the confiscation of the family house. This system is based on exponential rates of interest and on the selection of families that are not able to pay back. The practice of the camata occurs mainly in the south-east regions of Romania. It is particularly directed towards poorly informed people who want to migrate. In some villages south of Craiova, the camatari (loan sharks) offer to the candidates to migration to take over all expenditures related to migration: transport, documents, housing in the country of destination… A family who was not foreseeing but the payment of a few hundred euros is confronted upon arriving in France with the fact of having to pay sums up to several thousand euros. The sum must be paid in one month, after that the sum is doubled. The camatari thus put the family under pressure by creating a situation of stress concerning the date of reimbursement and by physical threats. Children are often the first victims, forced to bring in money by all means including theft and prostitution from the earlier age. In the end this system takes the form of a network of exploitation without any substantial risks for the camatari, since families begin this action at their own accord and threats are almost impossible to prove.[10].

Since 2007, independent associations and Romanian authorities noticed a significant increase in recruitment of minors directly in Romania for the purposes of sexual exploitation or work exploitation. The preferred target of recruiters are the poor families living in the countryside without the capacity of traveling abroad and very poorly informed of the risks related to migration. These recruiters use deception[11]  to convince the families to accept letting their children in their trust so these children would have a better future in the Western Europe.

IV/ Empowerment strategies of the exploited children

It is interesting to observe the different strategies put in place by the young people in order to free themselves from these situations of exploitation.[12]. We will start presenting the most dangerous strategies and will close with ways of integration that are much less problematic.

Empowerment through the group of peers. This strategy is common to minors who for several years have practiced theft or prostitution either before their departure abroad or upon arrival in the countries of destination. During the course of migration these young people had cut their links with their families, the institutions (school, institutions for the protection of children), and had come together with compatriots usually met in the country of destination, and practicing the same activities. In order to ensure their lodging, food and income-generating activities, these young people recreate then a system that is familiar to them, but a very precarious one because very unstable. Depending on the opportunities and the people they meet they are brought to moving from one country to another. After several years, many have serious physical and mental health problems. Some continue their vagrancy by alternating delinquency and imprisonment. Others try to get out, often by approaching the institutions of protection in order to solve their health problems or by reestablishing social links through marriage and children.

Empowerment through a group of compatriots. It regards the young migrants who have managed to establish a local network of acquaintances, not necessarily very important, but sufficient to place themselves as intermediaries and take advantage of this position to obtain a remuneration. This can go from the "rent" of a squat to other compatriots to relations to business owners or providing social service addresses. With the years, these activities may develop more or less into legal activities by short-term jobs[13]  to local businesses, the buying of a minibus for transportation of persons, the creation of a construction company… or may turn into activities of exploitation of compatriots by the “renting” of the land to several dozen families, recruiting easy exploitable workforce, lending money at usurious interest rates…

Empowerment through the insertion into the country of destination. It concerns the minors that risk exploitation but had rapid access to education in the country of destination and obtained a diploma.[14] These people then behave like the vast majority of migrants in deciding to work or to start a business in the country of destination while sending money home to their relatives.

The return to Romania. Disappointment about their prospects abroad, the disease or the death of a relative make some young people decide to return to Romania. Depending on the prospects for reintegration in the Romanian system (education, access to employment) and the family situation, these young people will or they will not postpone their project of migration. Many choose alternating periods abroad and in Romania.

Concerning the female victims of sexual exploitation, they may choose an empowerment strategy through the group of compatriots, but on a limited model, by taking a more dominant position in the network (coaching of other girls). The real freedom from the network of exploitation often goes through protection via an institution, allowing insertion in the country of destination or of origin.

As a conclusion we will take a case that illustrates the process leading to the exploitation of minors.

The case of the Romanian village "T" or the illustration of the risks related to the disengagement of public authorities at European level

 The village T is relatively poor and isolated from the main networks. The occupation of the majority of its inhabitants was the fabrication of bricks. The economic changes having rendered obsolete this activity, the villagers, short of money, had no other choice than to become daily workers in the neighboring farms.

Faced with the increase of the cost of living and the degradation of the Romanian school system, parents decide not to send children to school, preferring to make them work in order to provide for the family’s needs. The school system employees allow them to do this and falsely register children to school in order to avoid having problems with parents and superiors. These families are then “recruited” by villagers returned from abroad who offer them better paid work in agriculture in Italy. Many families accept but some, not having money, borrow from camatari. In order to pay the family debt, some children and parents find themselves working 10 to 12 hours per day in farms from South Italy. Despite the young age of some of these children nobody reports this situation to the Italian child protection authorities. Some children are then sent to Berlin and forced into theft or prostitution in order to increase income and help the family to get out of the debt which doubles each month. The authorities need up to 6 months to react and then, by a joint action of social services and the police, these activities are more and more limited. The group then moves to Paris and focuses on the prostitution of minors (aged between 11 and 16). The authorities remain passive for many months despite the reports of independent organizations of protection…

In the end it is obvious that, despite the unacceptable situation, in all European countries that this group passed through, the authorities have not responded for various reasons:

-                           acceptance of the situation due to massive disengagement of the public sector concerning protection of children (the case of Italy and Romania),
-                           rigidity of systems of protection making any experimental method very slow to put in place (France),
-                           police action motivated mainly by the preservation of public order and not by protection of minors (France and Germany),
-                           difficulties of cooperation between institutions (France),
-                           absence of European cooperation of various institutions concerned.

Although the phenomenon of trafficking has structural causes that are difficult to solve, it is striking that the level of exploitation is enhanced by institutional gaps in Romania as well as in the country of destination. This remark can easily be generalized to similar forms of exploitation involving other nationalities.

The overwhelming institutional failures present in our example are unfortunately quite revealing for the lack of commitment of the European States to truly address this problem of fighting trafficking and seem to recall that the protection of victims must not be limited to conventional speeches, but demands political decisions, for which many solutions still need to be found.

[1] Also deputy director of the association Hors la Rue (protection of minors from Eastern Europe).
[2] The number of Roma in Romania oscillates between 400 000 according to the last census and 3 million according to highest estimates. The figure of 2 million is often that used by organizations such as UNDP, the World Bank…

[3] Many foreign clothing companies are operating in Romania in the working areas most affected by unemployment, in particular the Italian textile enterprises of LONE (assembly of parts pre-cut abroad) which may put their employees to work 12h per day, 6 days per week.
[4] January 1, 2001
[5] Mihail Dumitru, Dana Diminesc, Valentin Lazea, Dezvoltarea rurală şi reforma agriculturii româneşti, April 2004,
[6] Nominal document recording the period and position of employment. The document is necessary for unemployment benefits, retirement pension and for the calculation of salaries.
[8] In France, the access to employment for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens is the subject of restrictions during the transition period in which are these two countries. In practice, despite a list of jobs so-called “under strain”, the procedure for a legal employment is still long, complicated and varies from one department to another. 
[9] In the late-1980s, some Roma of the South of Romania, in particular those from the region of Craiova, have exchanged the precious metals they owned in foreign currency, and became lenders. As the banking system was not yet fully in place and access to foreign exchange was very limited these people have become indispensable, especially for the Romanian entrepreneurs (most of them non-Roma). They took the name of “camatari” ("interest rates” in Serbian) or “dobandari” (same meaning in Romanian). Quickly they gained very important sums of money and especially established networks of influence at all levels of power (economic, political and judicial) making them immune from prosecution. The system was refined along the years, becoming virtually risk-free for the lenders and more and more profitable.
[10] BOT Malin, Mafia camatarilor, Humanitas, Bucuresti, 2004
[11] There are four different methods of "recruitment". The most frequent is the promise of a well paid job abroad. Sometimes, the recruiter pay the proposed benefit (ensuring travel, accommodation and job) upon arrival in order to be more credible or to have a future means of pressure by the incurred debt. The three other methods are seduction, when a man starts a relationship with a girl in order to bring her abroad and to prostitution, kidnapping, and recruitment of “experienced” prostitutes in search of a protector and supplementary income. Source: compilation of articles from Romanian local press synthesized by J-P Légaut.

[12] These observations were made during my work for several years to the association Hors la Rue which hosts each year approximately 250 new young people, most of them from Romania.
[13] Many young people who learned the language and found a job in a private business during their stay choose, after marriage, to alternate their stay. This system has many advantages, namely that the children can follow normal school in their country while the income abroad is still superior to that of Romania.
[14] « Que sont-ils devenus ? », a study of Credoc coordinated by R. Bigot, covering 100 young people who went through the association Hors la Rue and ESA of Paris. The results for the young people having accepted the institutionalization are very encouraging because the vast majority renounces the dangerous or illegal activities they practiced before and get professional qualifications in more than 90% of cases.