Human Trafficking in Europe: Romania Exposed

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

            Contrary to the connotation of the word “trafficking,” human trafficking does not necessarily denote the movement of humans.  The United Nations defines the term as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (United Nations).  The U.N. further states that trafficking in persons has three fundamental elements: the act (what is done), the means (how it is done), and the purpose (why it is done).  In order to fall under the U.N. terminology, all three elements must be present at some point in the case.

            The world’s most comprehensive resource of anti-trafficking effort by governments is the United States’ Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Published annually since 2001, its purposes are to “free victims, prevent trafficking, and bring traffickers to justice.”  According to the U.S. Department of State, it is the country’s “principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking.”  In addition to being used as a foreign engagement tool for the U.S., the report is also used by international organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and foreign governments to determine where the problem is most concentrated and where resources are most needed.   

            In the TIP Report, the Department of State categorizes each country into one of three tiers based on their government’s efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for trafficking in persons” found in the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.


            In 2001, the TIP Report placed Romania in the third tier on the grounds that it failed to have neither anti-trafficking laws nor legislation outlawing certain components of trafficking, such as pimping and rape.  Other contributions to the bottom ranking included a lack of resources, low-level corruption, and local government officials regarding the slavery issue as low priority and treating victims as “social outcasts.”  The report goes on to explain Romania as mainly a country of origin and transit for trafficking women to Italy, Greece, and Turkey and the Balkans to be sexually exploited.  It also acknowledges the trafficking of men to Greece for agricultural labor, albeit to a lesser extent.

            The most current TIP Report, the 2012 edition, positioned Romania in Tier Two and recognized it as a source, transit, and destination for men, women, and children.  It acknowledges the country’s inhabitants as accounting for a significant source of trafficking victims in Europe – with approximately one third of Romanian trafficking victims being children.  They are subject to not only forms of sexual exploitation, but also forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, hotels, and manufacturing and forced begging and theft in European countries, including Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Germany, Cyprus, France, Norway, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, and the United Kingdom.  According to the report, the Romanian government is taking actions toward reaching full compliance of the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.  In regards to anti-trafficking prosecution, those cases pursue in Romania were among the highest in Europe, perhaps because they were in conjunction with governments in destination countries.  If reached and sustained, this would result in Romania’s upgrade from Tier Two to Tier One of the U.S. TIP Report.

            As one can tell, Romania has become a hotspot for human trafficking in the European Union for several reasons.  One major source for this is the country’s strategic geographic location.  Romania shares borders with Hungary, Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria, as well as the Black Sea.  Thus, Romania is a sort of crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe, making it a source, transit, and destination country for the human trafficking industry.  With that being said, it is important to note that Romanians are not the only ones falling victim to this form of modern-day slavery.  With Romania’s admittance to the European Union in 2007, border regulations have been relaxed, resulting in an enhanced attraction for international traffickers.  Traffickers facilitate this process physically by stripping their victims of their real identification documents (i.e. passport) and replacing them with fake identification, in addition to bribing border personnel.  In a country whose government and police force place a low priority on the issue, the idea of officials being bribed by traffickers is not far-fetched.

Lived Experience

            Another reason behind the trafficking issue of Romanians is the economic situation.  After the global financial crisis in 2008, the NATO member-state experienced a deep economic recession.  According to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, “perceived corruption, exacerbated by a relatively inefficient judicial system, undermines the foundations of economic freedom and undercuts the prospects for dynamic long-term economic expansion.”  Clearly, the Romanian economy is in need of stimulation, whether it is through investment in business enterprises or other avenues. 

The underlying problem that seems to lead its citizens toward the horrific path of human trafficking is the country’s lack of real jobs.  This lack of job opportunities has provided motivation for citizens to seek work in wealthier European markets.  Young girls especially have fallen prey to traffickers who deceitfully promise lucrative jobs in meccas such as Rome, London and Amsterdam, but are typically pawned off as modern-day slaves.  Another reason for this is perhaps due to the “long-time public mistrust of government due to widespread public-sector corruption has been exacerbated by an erosion of democratic accountability since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008” (Index of Economic Freedom).

According to the 2012 TIP Report, Romania is a destination country for only a small number of foreign trafficking victims, including female victims from Moldova, Colombia and France who are trafficked into prostitution.  In addition, the country receives labor trafficking victims from Bangladesh and Serbia.  It is noted that Romanian children whose parents work abroad are vulnerable to sex trafficking within the country.  The European Commission states that Romanian men, women and child are trafficked internally for the purposes of sexual exploitation as well as forced labor.  Although the exact number is impossible to measure, the total number of victims identified in 2010 was 1154, a 32.5 percent increase from the previous year.  The majority of the Romanian trafficking victims consist of women and children, 56 percent and 27 percent respectively (European Commission).           


            In 2001, Romania adopted its first National Action Plan for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings.  However, the issue did not gain national attention until the government established an anti-trafficking branch in 2005, called the National Agency against Trafficking in Persons (ANTIP).  In addition, a National Strategy against Trafficking in Persons for 2006-2010 was launched in 2006.  Although Romanian policy initiatives seem like they are eagerly and competently attempting to control, judge, and eradicate modern-slavery in the country, the U.S. TIP Report from 2012 tells a different story.

            The 2012 TIP Report cites that the Romanian government has minimized the role of ANTIP and has decreased its funding for the past three consecutive years (since 2009).  The lack of government funding for this organization results in decreased quality of services that trafficking victims need.  As a result, the responsibility of providing services for trafficking victims such as medical and psychological care falls on the shoulders of poorly funded NGOs.

            Not For Sale—Choose For Your Own Sake is a community outreach program that aims to educate those directly and indirectly at risk for human trafficking, particularly the youth of Romania.  Since its creation, it has partnered with another organization, Mariana.  Together, the NGOs strive to rehabilitate and ultimately repatriate victims of trafficking.  They offer educational opportunities, as well as life-training skills and help with gaining employment.  Not For Sale has since broadened its goals to ending trafficking in persons around the world and acknowledges the ever-globalizing world and lack of jobs and education as chief sources behind this key human rights issue.


            In addition to being a principle human rights issue, human trafficking is also a law enforcement issue, particularly in Romania.  However, civil society must also play a role if we expect to combat this problem.  Where the poor and vulnerable do not have access to legal justice, they will be exploited.  That is a sad, inevitable truth in today’s world.  Romania needs to first and foremost adopt laws that distinguish differences between the types of human trafficking – sexual exploitation and forced labor.  I believe this will speed and ease the judicial process, allowing for more cases to be heard and for less grief for the victim.  Also, the government should create specialized programs to train law enforcement officials to be aware of situations that may be trafficking and to be sensitive to the victims, as they tend to be weary of authorities.  I urge the government to increase anti-trafficking funding, as recent years of inadequate funding have not been beneficial to the problem.  The quality of overall victim services – medical care, psychological care, shelter, vocational training, education, etc. is vital to the success of victim repatriation and an end to re-trafficking.