Human trafficking is far removed from the everyday lives of most of us.
We might hear about it on the news through reports of young girls being rescued from nightclubs run by gangsters or of a trafficking ring being broken up by police.
In the main, however, human trafficking is far removed from our experience, the stuff of films like “Taken.”
But in Moldova, where the European Baptist Federation’s anti-trafficking group met recently, it is all very real indeed.
I went to a remote village near the border with Romania, where I met a girl whom I will call Lydia. She lives in a very poor house with her tiny daughter.
Lydia is weak and thin and probably does not have long to live. The only heating in her house is a wood fire; she does not have the strength to chop and gather the wood.
Her sister comes to help her sometimes, but she has to do that secretly because Lydia’s brother-in-law wants to have nothing to do with her. The villagers shunned her upon discovering that she has HIV.
We sat with Lydia for some time. As she talked and cried, she expressed her fears for her young daughter. What would happen to her when Lydia dies? Who will care for her?
Like all mothers, Lydia wants her daughter to have a good education and be able to get a good job. She is afraid that what has happened to her will happen to her little daughter, too.
Lydia had been trafficked into the sex industry, forced to work as a prostitute in Italy and Germany, and even further afield in Asia.
After some years, she finally made it back to Moldova and came to the House of Change, a rehabilitation and reintegration center for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Chisinau, the capital and largest city of Moldova.
After a short stay, she wanted to be independent and left the center. Unfortunately, all she knows is prostitution. Lydia ended up pregnant and HIV positive.
It is likely that Lydia’s daughter will become an orphan soon. When that happens, she will become the responsibility of the state.
She is terrified that her daughter will have to go into a children’s home, where she will be at risk of exploitation by human traffickers.
In Moldova, orphanages are prime targets, but orphans are not the only children at risk.
Unemployment is 80 percent in the rural areas. Out of a population of 3.5 million, about 1.5 million people have left to work abroad.
So parents go abroad and send money back home. Their children therefore have money, but no parents.
They may live with their grandparents, on their own or with abusive and alcoholic relatives; they are very vulnerable.
Many young girls are sold into the sex industry and boys are trafficked into forced labor in the construction industry in Russia and elsewhere.
Pastor Vladimir Ubeivolc and his wife, Julia, are working tirelessly to help those caught up in this situation.
Their organization, Beginning of Life, works against human trafficking from several different angles.
They run the safe house in which Lydia lived for a while, where women can learn how to care for themselves and are encouraged to gain an education or learn a skill in order to be able to live lives apart from prostitution.
Staff keep in touch with women who have left the center and are trying to live ordinary lives, visiting regularly and making sure they have what they need to live independently.
Beginning of Life is not only concerned with rehabilitation and rescue, but also with preventing vulnerable young people from exploitation.
Some 400 teenagers who are at risk attend after-school clubs in which they are taught the life skills and values, which most of us learn from our parents, at the Urban Center.
A magazine is distributed in schools to help children recognize the dangers of human trafficking and teach an alternative lifestyle to consumerism and materialism.
In the Dream House, which opened last year, 10 young girls from 12 to 16 years old are given a loving, safe home in which they can develop their natural gifts and work toward the educational qualifications that are essential for finding a job in Moldova.
Young people receive counseling, learn craftwork and develop artistic skills, both as a therapeutic exercise and as a means of earning a living at a Psychological Art Studio.
Human trafficking is a harsh reality in this part of the world. Children and young people are at risk from those who see them only as a means to making money.
Beginning of Life is bringing hope to many, making it possible that Lydia’s fears for her daughter will not be realized, and that she will be able to live a fruitful and happy life.
Marion Carson is the secretary of the European Baptist Federation’s anti-trafficking working group. The group produces materials for church and individual use, which are available here. A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times, the online newspaper of The Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission.