Romania’s licensed traffickers

By • on November 5, 2009

The Balotescu children are off-duty in the afternoon, done begging and free to run in the weeds along the railroad tracks behind the rubber factory in Targu Jiu, where the family lives in a shanty with a bed. One bed for seven children, two adults plus the two black cats that sprawl on the blankets in the middle of the day. Outside a pot simmers on a fire.

Corabian Balotescu – everyone calls him Minut – says he has no choice but to have his wife and children – from the 14-year-old to the 6-month-old baby– beg. There are no jobs, he said, and if he applied for welfare, they could no longer get food from the local soup kitchen.

Begging works. Sometimes police will chase the three older girls, but that’s all.  “People help them when they see how poor they are… “ he says.

Every day his wife Marinela Luncan, 32, takes the children into Targu Jiu, not far from the Roma settlement of Obreja from morning until mid-afternoon. They each work a different area; Luncan keeps her youngest daughter at her breast.

“Do you think I wanted my children to beg?” says Luncan who had her first baby at 15. “Honestly, they are not even clean. More often than not, we don’t have drinking water, let alone for water for washing. I beg from morning till 2-3 p.m., sometimes till late at night.”

Daughter Eliza, 12, in a sooty dress and shoeless, likes school, but she cannot fit it in. Instead she takes a bus into the city and when she is finished begging, she returns home to babysit while her mother does chores. The money she makes goes to her parents. A local Roma leader has instructed the family what to say when asked and Roxana and Eliza report that they make only the equivalent of €1.4-2 a day.

Balotescu wanted to go to Italy last year.  He figured the children could earn much more begging there, but moneylenders refused him money for the trip because they had no guarantees he would pay it back.

From Tandarei to London
The Roma in Tandarei on the other side of Romania in Ialomita County, are divided into rich and the poor from the Strachina neighborhood who borrow money from them.

If the poor borrowers do not or cannot return the money they borrow with interest, they pay a heavy penalty – they give the moneylenders their children, who become beggars in the UK.

Instead of money, parents turn over notarized powers of attorney, so that the children can leave the country legally. Once in England, the children are forced to beg for coins to pay off their parents’ debt.

Paun Dorina, an illiterate mother of five, divides her life between her children and the church. She can’t write or read, but she knows that if she borrows €100 she has to return 200. As she explains it:  “The Gypsy man comes and says: if you give me the child, he will send you money, food, clothes. Not for me. I’d rather work for the children. They are taken to France, England, Spain…everywhere. If I send this one now (her daughter) will she send me money so that I can make both ends meet? No, I’d rather keep her home. They can beat you if you don’t give them the money. The children have to pay their parents’ debts.”

Juberian and Norvegia: traffickers in Europe?

Two Tandarei men – Ionel “Juberian” Stan and Adriana Stan or Norvegia as he is better known – ran a business with children, according to case working its way through the law enforcement system now.

It began when Juberian found the Duman family in his native Bolintin Vale in  Giurgiu County. He promised Maria Benone Duman, who is disabled with four young daughters, that the girls could send her money if she agreed to let them work abroad. He also promised her that the girls could get medical treatment they needed.

What really happened was revealed after a yearlong investigation by authorities that resulted in accusations of human trafficking and trafficking of minors against the men. The two took the Duman girls, another child from Bucharest and one from Ialomita County into Belgium and then Spain. The children were forced to beg and were sometimes beaten, investigators said.

From Oltenia to Milan
For several months last year, a group from Craiova, led by Marin Musi and Luminita Adir, sent 34 Roma children, aged 8-13, to beg in Italy, according to police, the Agency against Trafficking in Persons and the undercover agent with the Department for Combating Organized Crime who worked on the case.

The children were recruited in Craiova and its outskirts. Traffickers also took children from Ocolna, a very poor Roma community. Moneylenders sent children into Italy to pay off the debt of penniless relatives, officials said. The relatives signed and turned over notarized powers of attorney that gave the moneylenders responsible over their children.

Authorities found that the children were sent to Milan, kept on a remote farm and sent out to beg, pickpocket or  rob the tourists in front of the Central Station in Milan. They were required to bring back €800 a day or risk being beaten. Italian police do not charge children under 14—they simply return them to the adults responsible for them, in other words, to the traffickers.

One 12-year-old told Romanian police investigating  in Italy that he was from Craiova and was leaving in a farm in Bareggiate. The child claimed he had been forced to rob the tourists. “They threatened me, they told me they would break my arms if I didn’t steal. When I told them I wanted to go back home, they hit me in my genitals,” police quoted the child. Romulus Ungureanu, head of the Agency against Trafficking in Persons, said: “This is a case of children’s exploitation.”