Fourteen-year-old girls are at highest risk

Fourteen-year-old girls are at highest risk

Photo: Jordan Times

Half of the victims of human trafficking are minors, and it is feared that the number of victims is up to 10 times higher

In the past year, of the 57 identified victims of trafficking, 24 were minors, almost half of whom were girls. Experts around the world, as well as experts in the Balkans and Serbia, assume that the number of victims in this area is up to ten times higher!

On the July 30th, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was marked. To that end, Citizens Association for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and all Forms of Gender-Based Violence "Atina" in cooperation with the Childs Right Center have published the video "Between Dreams and Reality"  to raise awareness among children and youth about not only threats of human trafficking but also support they can get. Jelena Hrnjak from "Atina" has stated for "Blic" that the highest numbers of the victims of trafficking are girls and women, but sometimes they can’t see themselves as the ones.   

The problem why they are not recognized as such is not in the legal state of affairs, but it is a problem of patriarchal orientations. Women are less identified as victims of labor exploitation because women's work is not even recognized and it is difficult for the system to recognize a woman victim because it is understood that she is always there to clean, cook, wash and that her "historic place is next to the sink”. Also, girls and women who end up in the human trafficking chain are most often forced to engage in prostitution, hard work, crimes, and some of them were forcibly married as girls - she explains and adds that fourteen-year-old girls are at greatest risk.

Our speaker states that human traffickers have been known to law enforcement authorities for a long time, as well as that most of them have renewed their crime.

Traffickers in some cases were parents. Among them are mostly people from the margins of this society. They lure their victim with numerous deceptions, threats, often beatings, but also with conditioning. It is easy to identify traffickers since they never hold back, they abuse their power and difficult position of the victim. I have never met a trafficker who understood what he had done, who regretted the damage he had inflicted to the other human being, I have never met a trafficker who was aware of the problem he caused not only to the victim, but to entire society - explains Hrnjak.

Who are the victims

Association "Atina" explains that children who have been victims of human trafficking, come mostly from dysfunctional families and live in extreme poverty.

Not everyone can be a victim of trafficking, although everyone is at risk, one become a victim due to various life circumstances in which a person is literally forced. They do not choose where they will be born and in which kind of family. Exactly those predispositions - bad family relations, lack of care and love, not recognizing why dignity is important, treating another person as less valuable are the reasons how it arises and what leads to violence - Hrnjak explains.

Our speaker adds that the victims have only been familiar with hopelessness for as long as they can remember, and they are lacking support for education and developing social network.  

Moreover, there are also wide range of social circumstances, corruption, nepotism, turning a blind eye, huge gap between the rich and the poor, failure to respect labour rights that results in placing certain people in oppressed position – she adds.

Social media threat

According to the latest survey, out of 57 victims reported in 2021, 24 are children. Seven children have been sexually exploited, while six of them have been forced into marriages. Three of them have been victims of labour exploitation, while two of them have been victims of forced begging. These worrying statistics have been particularly affected by the digital environment, since children are facing numerous risks online. It happens that they experience violence, as well as self-harm; they are being forced into pornography, materials that contain sexual abuse of children, discrimination and racism, hate speech, harassment, illegal processing of personal data.

Psychosomatic disorders

Children who have been victims of trafficking frequently develop vast number of psychosomatic symptoms. Their body starts suffering and those symptoms become real health conditions. Thus, upon escaping that situation, their recovery is slow and painstaking – Hrnjak notes.

She explains that only by investing in children and educating them is it possible to protect them from the predators.  

Each school that is build is one prison less, that is the fact that we should always keep in mind. We should direct children to sports, music... it is necessary for people to share their problems with others, so that they know how to provide help and protection – she stresses.

COVID and human trafficking

According to the survey, for the purpose of sexual exploitation, traffickers take their victims from Serbia to Europe, especially to Austria, Germany, Italy and Turkey. For the purpose of labour exploitation, in particular men in construction industry, to Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Russia, Switzerland, as well as United Arab Emirates.

Identified foreign victims in Serbia are from Albania, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Mali, Nigeria, North Macedonia and Pakistan.

During combating of COVID, vast number of the youth and children have spent a significant portion of their time at home in a virtual world, and the human trafficking market has been redirected to social media outlets. Through forums, dating websites, as well as tempting advertisements, over hundreds of thousands aggressors simultaneously had an opportunity to recruit their victim.

Identification did not increase during Covid, which does not mean that there were no victims. Identification of victims hasn’t been a priority - notes Hrnjak.

Sentence for criminal offence of human trafficking in Serbia ranges from three to twelve years of imprisonment.

Free assistance to the victims of human trafficking

Victims of human trafficking can always reach out to Atina SOS helpline +381 61 63 84 071 and ask for help, or they can dial emergency police number 192. Aside from legal aid, they can be provided with various free help, such as free medical services, whether they are citizens of Serbia or not, or if they have health insurance or not; moreover, they can be provided with psychological assistance and interpretation services if they do not speak Serbian language, or they struggle understanding it.

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