Romania, Europe and the Taken Reality

As I’ve noted for Opportunity Lives, the European Union (EU) isn’t the utopia some believe. Consisting of 28 independent states, economic and social conditions across the union vary. And each of those countries has peculiar problems.

Consider human trafficking — let’s call it slavery — in Romania. How is this happening in the EU in 2016?

Laws against human trafficking have long been inadequate in Romania. To this day, convicted traffickers escape prison entirely or face short sentences of one or two years. It is also very rare for organized crime leaders to face prosecution. In part, this is because of inadequate investigative resourcing. But corrupt politicians also help provide cover for these groups.

In some Eastern European nations that seek EU membership, the situation is worse. Kosovo’s president-elect is a well-known crime lord. Taken together, this means that for Romanian organized crime groups, the deterrence of law is far inferior to the lucrative opportunity of selling human lives. Absent change, the profit incentive will continue to drive this grotesque criminality. As Al Jazeera America reported last year, many Romanian traffickers show little remorse for their atrocities.

Yet there is hope. For one, a courageous movement of anti-trafficking NGOs has risen up to assist existing victims and prevent new crimes from occurring. Supported by cross-border EU regulations (such as on adoption laws), these civil activists have helped bring public attention to the horrors of human trafficking. In addition, partnerships between NGOs are increasing. This allows NGOs to pool their resources and work together to amplify voices for their agendas.

There is hope for Romania, as a courageous movement of anti-trafficking NGOs has risen up to assist existing victims and prevent new crimes from occurring

But it also allows Romanian NGOs to better oppose criminal intimidation and pressure governments towards meaningful reform, which in turn fosters cross-continental attention to human trafficking. Take the so-called “sewer children” of Romania. Neglected by the government, hundreds of young children have long lived in the sewers below the streets of Bucharest. In 2014, British and German news crews drew attention to this tragedy, where children are falling prey to drug abuse and HIV infection. Last year, under public pressure from the EU, the Romanian government began to take greater action to address the crisis.

There’s a lesson for advocacy media here. After all, just as Charles Dickens drew attention to the plight of street children in Victorian Britain, the reporting media can draw attention to suffering today.

Still, much more work must be done. As UNICEF assessed in a powerful 2006 report, one systemic challenge in Romania is the fact that child trafficking is tolerated in some ethnic communities more than in others. But another problem is that misguided political correctness hampers human rights. Across Europe, Romanians continue to face social, employment and transitory discrimination. This abuse is well understood across Western Europe and rightly condemned in nations such as the UK (but not Italy or Spain).

Embarrassed by the prejudice, EU governments ignore the role of Romanian organized criminals in trafficking other Romanians. In that neglect, their political correctness fuels the power of the gangs. Opposing human trafficking also requires further introspection from EU governments. In the early 2000s, for example, Amnesty International reported that German military forces were using prostitution networks in Kosovo. That should never have been allowed to stand.

The sum of this continental neglect — of Romanian sewer children, organized crime lords and trafficked misery — is the core issue here. It speaks to Europe’s urgent need for greater enforcement of human rights. Because today, the absence of robust EU counter organized crime agencies and anti-racketeering laws abandons innocents. And in that curtained world of Berlin, London and Paris brothels, the movie “Taken” becomes reality.

Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.