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UN Says Not Enough Effort to Halt Trafficking of Romanian Children

The U.N. Children's Fund says not enough is being done to stop thousands of Romanian women and children from being sexually exploited in European countries. UNICEF warns the problem may grow worse when Romania joins the European Union next year.

Romania's social and economic life has improved since its communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, was overthrown and killed in a revolution in December 1989. But, the U.N. Children's Fund says not enough has been done to stop many of its citizens from wanting to leave the country in search of a better life.

UNICEF Representative in Romania, Pierre Poupard, says 16 years after the revolution, about 20 percent of the country's children live under the poverty line. He says these inexperienced youngsters often fall prey to traffickers.

"You have to know that poverty, unemployment in Romania absolutely leads young people to go to leave the country ... And the destination countries, I have to mention-Spain, Italy, France, but as well U.K. and Serbia is as well a country where there are a lot of young Roma [Gypsies] girls, young girls being on the networks of trafficking of prostitution," he said.

Last year, more than 2,500 victims of trafficking were officially registered, 366 victims were children. Poupard says these official figures are way off the mark. He says the number of women and children who are smuggled into other European countries and sold into prostitution is much higher.

As part of its bid to become a member of the European Union, Romania enacted laws against trafficking and took other measures to protect children. But, Poupard says these laws are not strong enough to deter those who traffic in human flesh.

He says he fears the situation, in some respects, will get worse after Romania joins the European Union next year.

"Romania will manage one of the largest external borders of the Union," Poupard said. "More than 2000 kilometers. Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova. Those are countries which are already a source for trafficking and Romania will be a transit country, will be obviously still a source country for trafficking, but also a recipient country of trafficking. Once Romania will be part of the Schengen space [area with no passport controls] some years from now, clearly, there will be a lot of dynamics in human trafficking."

Poupard also points out once Romania becomes a member of the European Union, the European Commission will no longer be present in the country to monitor what is going on. He says U.N. aid agencies, working with national independent organizations, will have to take up these monitoring functions. He says they will have to make sure children's human rights are protected.