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Charity fights child trafficking in Albania

The Swiss charity, Terre des Hommes, has been awarded France's 2002 Human Rights Prize for its work in combating child trafficking in Albania.

For the past two years, the organisation has been investigating the grim trade in children between Greece and its northern neighbour.

According to Terre des Hommes, Albanian children are being smuggled into Greece, where they are forced into street crime and begging. But there is an infinitely darker side to the child-smuggling network.

"A young girl who is selling flowers in a restaurant during normal opening hours could be sexually exploited later on," the charity's Vincent Tournecuillert told swissinfo.

"We have seen cases of this happening to girls as young as ten."

Terre des Hommes focused its investigations on the lesser known of two Albanian child-trafficking routes.

The smuggling of children into Italy for prostitution is well documented, but the Greek route has remained under wraps until now.

"Nobody was interested in Greece," says Tournecuillert. "Everybody was focusing on Italy and the sexual exploitation of children there."

According to official Albanian statistics, there are around 1,400 unaccompanied Albanian minors in Greece, compared with 3,700 in Italy.

Breaking the cycle

Terre des Hommes, in conjunction with the Greek non-governmental organisation, Arsis, and other partners, has been attempting to stem the flow of Albanian children heading to Greece.

"We go and talk with children and their teachers in [Albanian] schools, but we also try to pinpoint pupils who could be at risk," says Tournecuillert.

Protecting children from the smugglers lies at the heart of Terre des Hommes' efforts in Albania and Greece.

But the organisation also offers assistance to those children who have already been smuggled into Greece.

"We try and approach the children without putting them at risk," explains Tournecuillert. "After talking to them, we can then try and trace their families in Albania."

If the families are found, Terre des Hommes then tries to help the child return home if minimal conditions are met back in Albania.

Widespread problem

Tournecuillert warns that problem of child trafficking is not just confined to Greece and Italy.

"Much of western Europe, including Switzerland, takes part in child trafficking," he says.

And keeping track of the children moving through Europe is difficult as smuggling networks regularly exchange children depending on their age and usefulness.

"A girl over the age of 12 can end up in the hands of people who are far more dangerous and far more secretive than those who dealt with her when she was younger. And when that happens, these children disappear."

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin and Scott Capper


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