Just before Easter eight of our street folk were arrested on charges of human trafficking. Are they guilty? Of trafficking in the true sense of the word ... definitely not. Are they guilty of being victims of society who live their lives on the streets ... yes they are. Street life is harsh and the "street kids" live in "families" in which the younger ones produce the money and the older ones protect them, and look after them, and yes, ocasionally hit them if they refuse to go out and make money.
Is it wrong? Yes it most certainly is. Do I agree with this way of life? Do I sanction it in any way? No I don't. Do I recognise that it is a sad part of the reality of life on the streets? Yes I do!
International pressure on Romania to "do something" about the problem of trafficking is probably the main reason for the arrests. The real human traffickers, the ones who make good money out of it are too clever to get caught or have connections in high places and escape justice. As is so often the case in this unjust world in which we live, it is the ones at the very bottom, those who have no money or influence, those whose lives are already a tale of woe and suffering who pay the price.
Several of the "witnesses/victims" in this case are illiterate, yet their statements display a high degree of literacy, using words and phrases which I am convinced they have never heard of or used in their lives. Three have told me that they were offered cigarettes and a small amount of money by someone if they agreed to the statement and put their fingerprint of cross on it.
As both the accused and the accusors are all young people with whom we work, I love them all and feel only pity for them - all are victims in one way or another. If found guilty those accused face up to 20 years in prison ... a lifetime locked away, and for what? For trying to survive life on the streets in whatever way they can.
Do I blame Romania, the prosecution or the local police for this travesty of justice? Ultimately, (with a couple of exceptions) no - most of them are just trying to do their jobs in the best way they can ... the pressure on the "system" here in Romania to be seen to be doing something is immense. Because of its geographical location Romania is a country of origin, of transit and of final destination of trafficked human beings but the traffickers are from all over Europe and beyond. Once again, Romania's geography is against her, just as it was in past centuries when she was repeatedly invaded and looted by armies from every direction.