The interview by journalist Voltiza Duro can be found below.
1. Mr Hazizaj, what does the latest Europol report show about child trafficking in Albania?
18th October is the European Day against Trafficking in Human Beings. Being the only Albanian national organization member of the European Union Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings, CRCA / ECPAT Albania received the EUROPOL report on child trafficking, in which the “Criminal Networks in the European Union that traffic and exploit children under age” BANA shikoje pak titullin ketu qe te jete fiks si raporti I Europol Europol Report was also introduced. Europol is the organization which includes all police forces in the European Union and its report on trafficking in human beings focussed on two main points. The first issue raised was that Albania is the only EU potential candidate country, in which child trafficking is ever more present. For the first time in this report, there is a special chapter dedicated to Albanian-speaking criminal rings and their impact on the trafficking and exploitation of children. The fact that organized crime was mentioned in the report indicates that child trafficking continues to be unpunished by national institutions and that the lack of necessary measures from the Albanian side has contributed to the phenomenon spreading in Europe.
2. What is the number of child-victims and how are they exploited for?
A very concerning fact is that the Albanian Government has never reported any numbers. The only data that has been published are those by the Ministry of Interior. However, the latter are partial and not matching the European statistics on child trafficking from Albania. Based on European sources, CRCA/ECPAT Albania has concluded there are at least 5000 Albanian children that have been trafficked or smuggled abroad. Nevertheless, in our opinion, this number does not display the entire reality, because according to UK Home Office and their reports on trafficking, there have been over 1500 trafficked or smuggled Albanian children only in the last two years. Additionally, the latest report of Vatra in Vlora shows an increase of more than 30% of the children-victims receiving services in their centre during the current year.
3. Which is the most affected age group?
According to Europol, the age of children being trafficked is becoming lower. Moreover, the respective families are fully aware their children are victims of trafficking. Yet getting manipulated by the traffickers, they believe their children will have better opportunities in EU countries rather than at home. This is an absurd and lamentable phenomenon and clearly displays that parents are willing to take this risk in search of a better future for their children.
4. Have the child-victims been sexually abused?
Europol report aims to raise the awareness amongst EU governments and wider that the majority of children-victims of trafficking have been economically and sexually exploited. Being under the control of criminal and organised groups, it means that the children face the risk of being sold, become victims of paedophiles networks, be used for child pornography and prostitution. Both previous and recent data show that children are controlled by women traffickers and are used for forced labour and drug distribution. As they become older, they are exploited for prostitution and for drugs control and distribution all over Europe. Thus, it is no coincidence that Albanian crime has been included in a special chapter of this report.
5. What are the risks that children face in Albania?
For as long as the Albanian police is incapable and often is accused of collaborating with organized crime networks, all Albanian children are in danger.
However, children living in extreme poverty, abandoned, children who live on the small cash handouts that the Government provides are much more exposed than let say the child of the Prime Minister, or of a member of the Parliament. This is a clear indicator of social inequalities as well, and of negligible efforts of the country in protecting our children. If our taxes are not spent on child protection and development, but merely on strengthening connections between business and the politicians, then some Albanian citizens will continue to believe that trafficking is a better future for their children than living in poverty and being forgotten in their own country!
6. What are the main measures to minimize this phenomenon?
Due to the government lack of investment in social protection services and education, our country is still far from providing a solution to the issue. An immediate measure would be the establishment of a new directorate within the National Police Authority responsible for all crimes related to children. Certainly, national budget should include funds for childcare and protection services. In addition, the government ought to immediately increase the budget for Education so that all children facing the risk can at least get a free meal in kindergartens and schools. The situation is so concerning to the point that even such simple social measures can ameliorate it. Besides these, the government needs to fight crime since poverty and the lack of hope are among the main reasons that is pushing children towards trafficking and young people towards prostitution.
7. What are the requests of CRCA for the Albanian state?
Besides the aforementioned requests that have been continuously addressed to the government, CRCA and ECPAT Albania have certain recommendations for the Parliament, the Ministry of Interior and the municipalities. First, the Parliament should organise an immediate hearing session and hold accountable all public officials that get paid from our taxes and ask them why child trafficking is still present and why they prioritize buying expensive cars rather than paying for the necessary child protection services. Secondly, the Ministry of Interior and the National Coordinator against Trafficking in Human Beings need to revise the entire prevention and protection system regarding child trafficking, because the current one has failed to function properly. Thirdly, municipalities should understand they are to blame as well, since they keep spending funds for the rich children, while they are not providing a solution for the elimination of poverty, exploitation and trafficking of children in their territory. It is their prime responsibility that such services are not being made available for the citizens!