Child Trafficking in Albania
a Save the Children's report

by Daniel Renton

© Peter Williams / WCC

In Italy and Greece, Albanian girls are subjected to extreme levels of danger, violence and sexual exploitation

© Peter Williams / WCC

Trafficking of women and children, illegal immigrants, drugs and weapons is a multimillion dollar industry, which directly and indirectly employs many people in Albania

© Peter Williams / WCC

Save the Children has published "Child Trafficking in Albania". The report concludes that thousands of women and children have been abducted and forced to work as prostitutes abroad. It was also found that this practice still occurs on a daily basis.

It maintains that at least 60% of Albanians trafficked for prostitution are children. More than half are tricked into prostitution, while more than a third are abducted. Up to 90% of girls over the age of 14 no longer attend school in some rural areas due to fear of being trafficked.

This report has been instrumental in bringing the situation to light in Albania and beyond. It is expected to translate into changes in government policies and public attitudes which will have an impact on curbing this traffic in human lives.

Albania has been a major source country for the trafficking of women and children (The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children as under 18 years old.) since the collapse of communism in 1991. It is estimated that there are 30,000 Albanian prostitutes abroad. Despite this, until 1997, Albanian authorities were reluctant to admit that many were the victims of trafficking. Today, trafficking is high on the political agenda, but still very little research has been done into the trafficking of Albanian women and children abroad. Apart from the efforts of some national non-government organisations, the fate of trafficked women and girls has, by and large, been ignored.

Because of the absence of any meaningful or reliable statistics on trafficking (either in Albania or host countries), the study relied on anecdotal evidence at grassroots level to better determine numbers, recruitment areas, trends and practices. Through discussion groups, questionnaires and over a 100 interviews, a research team consulted victims, teachers, missionaries, villagers, speedboat owners, students, state officials, non-governmental organisations and international organisations. The intention was to hear first-hand from those who have witnessed trafficking in the worst affected areas of Albania.

The study concluded that trafficking has been, and still is, widespread in the country and the majority of victims are children. Trafficking is usually conducted through offers of false marriages and jobs, or abduction and selling. In some parts of Albania, there is hardly a village that remains untouched. While the trend has shown a slight decline since 1997/98, trafficking of children for prostitution continues on an almost daily basis and the risks of recruitment remain high, especially for the poor and ill educated.

For example, in Puke district in the north, village teachers have identified 87 females trafficked in the last three years, 80% of them children. Local sources claim 2000 women from the Berat district are working as prostitutes abroad, 80% of them were children when they were trafficked. In a handful of villages in the Zadrima area, it is estimated that 30 women have been forced into prostitution. There are countless other examples and a significant number of those have occurred in the last 6 months.

However, the picture is a complicated one. There is a steady rise in emigration for voluntary prostitution abroad to escape poverty and bleak futures in Albania. It is difficult to determine who leaves willingly and who is forced to leave for prostitution. But according to Italian NGOs, many of the voluntary prostitutes are unprepared for the harsh reality awaiting them and often end up being trafficked, exploited, and victimised when abroad. The area of forced trafficking and willing emigration for illicit activity is further blurred when discussing children. Children may say they go willingly, but are often coerced, or convinced by adults, to engage in illegal activity without understanding the nature of the work.

In Italy and Greece where there are estimated to be 15,000 and 6,000 Albanian prostitutes respectively, Albanian girls are subjected to extreme levels of danger, violence and sexual exploitation. Many, perhaps the majority, are unpaid, rendering them sex-slaves. Their passports are taken and threats and intimidation to themselves and their families prevent them from escaping and testifying against their pimps. The Albanian pimp has a reputation for extreme ruthlessness and murder is not uncommon. Last year, the Italian Ministry of Interior reported that 168 foreign prostitutes had been killed, the majority Albanians or Nigerians murdered by their pimps.

Those who do return to Albania (many are deported from Italy daily) are given very little help. There is not a single official shelter or welfare programme available to them and the state provides no security or protection. Some religious orders offer temporary accommodation but these services are on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis. If they attempt to return to their communities they usually face ostracisation and family rejection. Albania still has a culture that blames girls that have been sexually abused rather than seeing them as victims. In practise many fear to come back and those that do are usually re-trafficked.

The trafficking of children to Greece for begging and forced labour is no less alarming. It is estimated that there are 1000 mainly Albanian gypsy children in the city of Thessaloniki alone. They, too, tell stories of systematic violence and exploitation at the hands of their traffickers. Yet the Albanian Ministry of Public Order claims to have no evidence of the trade and the general public appear to be largely indifferent.

An alarming consequence of the fear of trafficking in Albania is a dramatic decrease in the number of girls over the age of 14 attending high school. In remote areas, where pupils may have to walk for over an hour to get to school, the research has discovered that as many as 90% of girls no longer receive a high school education. Although there are other factors that contribute to the trend, the majority of parents say their daughters would attend school, if their security on route could be guaranteed.

Awareness of trafficking is high in many areas as a result of media attention and the warnings of those who have returned. But there is still an urgent need to inform those in the remote areas because the conditions that make girls and women susceptible to the approaches of traffickers - poverty, unemployment, lack of education and reduced marriage prospects due to the mass emigration of boys - are as acute as ever.

Trafficking of women and children, illegal immigrants, drugs and weapons is a multimillion dollar industry, which directly and indirectly employs many people in Albania. But despite the fact that trafficking is now high on the political agenda, there are still very few prosecutions. Albania is now a major transit country for the trafficking of thousands of foreign women every year from countries such as Moldova, Romania and Ukraine and the crime networks continue to operate with virtual impunity.

While traffickers (many of whom are well known) continue to live within the community and their activities are tolerated, there is a continuing threat to Albanian girls. As an ex-INTERPOL source says, "As long as the economic conditions prevail and the financial rewards are so high, Albania will remain a source country."

The report concludes that it is incumbent on the government of Albania to address the issue of trafficking more seriously. It also needs to enforce the law, prosecute criminals, provide services and welfare programmes for victims, ensure the security and protection of victims and organisations trying to help them and tackle the indifference of the Albanian public. In the meantime, international organisations and NGOs can do a great deal to prevent further trafficking of children and help those already trafficked.

Main conclusions

  • Albania continues to be a significant source country of trafficking. This situation will remain as such until the law is enforced and the prevailing conditions of poverty and lack of opportunity ameliorate.

  • The most "at risk" groups are children (under 18) from poor and ill-educated families.

  • There needs to be programmes and services to help victims, but these must be developed in conjunction with local NGOs and with the support of the government and community. This is not possible until the government provides protection and security.

The complete report can be found at:

Contact addresses:
Save the Children US
Att: Donor Services
54 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880
Tel: +1-800-728-3843
International Save the Children Alliance (Secretariat Office)
275-281 King St
London - W6 9LZ
Tel: 00 44 208 237 8010

Back to table of contents of ECHOES no. 20/2001