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UNICEF Worries EU Expansion May Lead to Less Protection For Exploited Children - 2004-05-01

Now that European borders are relaxing, the U.N. children's fund says one negative effect is that it may be easier for those who exploit children as sex slaves. UNICEF officials fear European enlargement may lead to less protection for children who are trafficked across borders.

UNICEF studies show the trafficking of women and children from southeastern Europe to western Europe is a huge, multi-million dollar criminal trade. Deborah McWhinney is UNICEF sub-regional advisor on trafficking. She says sexual and labor exploitation is likely to continue and possibly increase in the expanded European Union.

She says one concern is that under new EU legislation, people found to be illegal will not be sent back to their country of origin but will be returned to where they entered the European Union.

"So, for someone coming from, let us say Bulgaria, who has traveled into the EU via Serbia into Hungary, they will be dropped off in Serbia or into Slovenia via Croatia, they will be dropped off in Croatia," she said. "So we may have a serious problem of children potentially being dropped at borders with absolutely no services to be able to respond to that."

Ms. McWhinney says children who are stranded at borders would be prone to further exploitation. She says the Mafia or organized criminal gangs involved in weapons and drug smuggling also trade in human beings.

"Then there is the sort of local traffickers that are generally people that are within a community or within a family who have local networks," said Deborah McWhinney. "You know, Albanian-Greece connection, connections within the region for example. And then a third level are those people who, we feel are complicit in trafficking - public officials, people who are working on borders who are taking bribes, corrupted public officials basically."

Ms. McWhinney says UNICEF will also be monitoring the treatment of Gypsies. She notes there are many Gypsy communities in some of the eastern European countries that have just joined the EU. This might make it easier for them to move across borders. But, she says, it might also make it easier for outsiders to exploit young boys and girls for purposes of begging or sexual exploitation.