One of the unforeseen consequences of the end of the Cold War was that greater freedom and removal of controls on travel led to massive population movements. Many of the people on the move were adults, seeking employment in countries with a stronger economy and better wages than their own, escaping political, social or religious discrimination and persecution, making contact with long-lost relatives or going on holiday in areas where they could not travel before.
Among the adults, though, there have been a scattering of children. Some of them have travelled as unaccompanied minors, seeking a better life. Some have been trafficked, to be used for prostitution or other sorts of offending. Often these children are hidden, either holed up in flats where they can be made available for sexual purposes or simply hiding to avoid attention. Either way, they can be hard to spot, and the scale of the problems they face is hard to assess.
Identifying the Problem
Save the Children therefore set up a project in Denmark to assess the situation. They started with rumours but no facts, and therefore went on a fact finding mission visiting shelters for victims of trafficking and other NGOs in Russia and the Baltic countries to find out if there was a link to Denmark. Research was also being done in Denmark in order to come up with an approximate number of minor victims of trafficking, the types of exploitation they had experienced and the children’s social background.
Two groups of children were identified as a result of these enquiries. The first came from Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and they were used for prostitution. The second group came from Romania and Bulgaria, and they had been trafficked with a view to criminal activities such as theft.
The latter group presented the Danish police with a real headache. When they were apprehended, they sought asylum and were placed in the Red Cross camp near Copenhagen, only to abscond at the first opportunity to continue with their activities on behalf of adult kingpins.
After a year, Save the Children had prepared a proposal for an Action Plan to combat trafficking in children to Denmark. The People’s Socialist Party adopted it and took the matter up in Parliament. As a consequence, the Commission for Social Affairs instituted further enquiries and published a report. The Minister for Equality and Social Affairs decided to act on this report, and approached the Danish Red Cross and Save the Children Denmark to assist. By September 2005 the Action Plan was in place.
Action is taking several forms. First, training is being prepared for police, social workers and other professionals in identifying and protecting the rights of minor victims of trafficking. Secondly, time and resources will be invested in gathering fuller knowledge of the situation. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has been involved. To enable the police to make contact with trafficked women and obtain their trust and enhance cooperation with social NGOs, a social anthropologist was employed to help understand the situation from the victims’ viewpoint, and enable the police to understand the pressures to which they are subject.
Save the Children/ECPAT Denmark is involved in a similar project in Estonia training professionals in anti-trafficking competencies.
An ongoing worrying trend in Eastern Europe is that street children and other marginalised minors are trafficked or drifting across the border from Ukraine into Poland and then further west. However, in the face of organised trafficking, the task ahead is considerable. Children are moved between countries and from city to city so that it is difficult to identify them. However, as records improve, it becomes possible to identify children who have been observed in other places.(This is likely to have be a long-term project.)
The Scale of the Problem
It has been suggested that as many as 20,000 children a year enter Europe. The police in Paris reckon that there are 30,000 minors from the Balkans in the city. Some of these, of course, have not been trafficked, but have travelled on their own in search of a better life. Many have been brought up in state institutions in eastern Europe. Not only is it easy to see why they find western Europe attractive, but they are also vulnerable, without the life skills needed to protect themselves when at risk in a strange country.
Under the project, a variety of types of care are being offered – respite care for underfunctioning families and homes for immigrant children, for example, and a hotline to report child pornography
Denmark is a fairly small country, with 5 million inhabitants. It might be thought difficult to hide trafficked children, therefore, but it has happened, and it is anticipated that the problem will increase. There are 25 million Roma in eastern Europe, for example, often suffering discrimination, and they may well see western countries such as Denmark a soft target.
One consequence of the level of immigration is that Danish public opinion appears to be hardening and a streak of xenophobia is appearing. There has been a tradition of reasonable tolerance in Denmark, but it remains to be seen whether that tolerance remains dominant. It could make all the difference to the way that trafficked