human development, social justice and sustainable social systems
Trafficking in human beings is evolving and so should our fight against it
Trafficking is evolving. Inventive criminal minds are managing to step deeper and deeper into our communities to “fish out” their most vulnerable members.
New forms of trafficking and exploitation for criminal activities are appearing in Eastern Europe, and more particularly in Lithuania. It affects mostly men. Groups of young men aged between 14 and 20 years old are forced into local criminal groups and transported to Western Europe to perform shop-lifting, burglaries, drug dealing, etc.
Many of them come from vulnerable backgrounds. They lived in child care institutions or in difficult families. They had no responsible adult capable to protect them from being recruited and trafficked away.
All these broken souls are very easy preys for traffickers. They recognise them very quickly and lure them with their well-trained and well-placed words. And if the words are not enough, they always find “more persuasive” means.
“They told me that my mother is not taking care of me properly so they can buy me new clothes and food. Later the boss said that now it‘s my turn to show gratitude and to go to Germany for the new cars. When I refused they started waiting for me outside my house day and night, I was afraid even to go to school. I was beaten up several times. My mother was blaming me and crying all the time. So I agreed to go to Germany. I do not believe that anybody can help me. This world is a cruel place to live” – a 16 year-old Lithuanian, imprisoned for 2 years.
Once in the gang, these teenagers receive very concrete instructions where to steal, what to steal If they get caught, they also know by heart what to tell the police and the social workers. They keep firmly to the promise of “not to betray the masters”. So the officials that want to prosecute the crime or to help the arrested youngsters will never hear the true story of what happened in reality.
As Caritas, we have opted for taking up the challenge to protect young people from adult exploiters. Now I think that we must innovate our actions against trafficking. This really is a big deal. We need to step out of the mainstream and invite our social partners to start asking questions such as “How do the teenagers from the remote EU countries manage to come to this country?“, “How can they plan and perform such complicated crimes like stealing jewelry, cars, perfume, clothes?“, “Where do they store these stolen goods?“, “How is it possible that the same 14-17 year old boys are being arrested 5-10 times in different countries – never having personal documents or a cent on them?“
After 16 years working in anti-trafficking field, my team still faces the same main challenge: changing the attitude towards the victims in our communities. We have been trying to tackle this with a traditional approach of combining gentle face to face conversations around a cup of coffee and organising many conferences and seminars where we can safely show our expertise. But now it feels like these options are not enough. Something new and different is required.
I think that we should be able to create new flexible structures that could allow vulnerable teens to experience safety and true compassion. I firmly believe that our coordinated professional and international response could demonstrate our deep understanding of the true causes of human trafficking and the readiness to claim to the whole criminal world that these children are our children and we‘ll protect them!
The world does not need to be “a cruel place to live“ for any of these children.
Programme Coordinator on prostitution and trafficking in human beings, Caritas Lithuania