Stella’s Voice Canada: Rescuing children of Moldova from human trafficking
by Agnes Chung
It was mid-December 1996. Sixteen orphan children in Moldova froze to death in their beds, while age-out kids (16-year old teens) living in state-run orphanages were put out on the streets. Among them was Stella, a young girl exploited and sold into sex slavery, who contracted AIDS and died at age 19. The tragedy sparked the birth of Stella’s Voice.
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova, a former republic of the Soviet Union, is a country of unspoilt pastures, rolling vineyards and magnificent monasteries. However, behind the facade of its beautiful landscape and attractions lay the tragic reality of the country’s human trafficking dilemma, and the fate of its young people.
In 2014, children accounted for almost a third (28 per cent) of all human trafficking victims worldwide, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2016 report. The report further states that sex trafficking and forced labour remain the top form of exploitation – with women and girls comprising 71 per cent of human trafficking victims. UNODC defines human trafficking as ‘an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through the use of force, deception or other means for exploitation purpose’.
Moldova, an agricultural-based economy is the poorest country in Europe. Widespread domestic violence, alcoholism and corruption – worsened by high unemployment – all combine to make the country a prime target for human trafficking. Victims end up in sex slavery and forced labour within the country, in Russia, Ukraine, European countries, the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia. Increasingly, sex slavery victims are girls as young as 13 years old.
Sustainable solution to saving the vulnerable
“Prevention is the most effective antidote to slavery. Our mission is protecting the world’s most vulnerable from human traffickers in three ways,” shares Gary Klassen, national manager of Stella’s Voice Canada.
1. “Remove the vulnerability of the boys and girls who leave the state-run orphanage system by providing safety and shelter at our homes – and providing for all their needs within a caring Christian environment.”
2. “Assist them through education. Coming from state-run orphanages, they often fall behind in their education. We provide them with tuition, finances and resources to just make sure they can get through their secondary school system, then onto college and university.”
3. “Education on its own doesn’t give you everything to live a productive or independent life. We are looking at ways that we can provide additional training, life skills, apprenticeship, etc., just to make sure that they are both equipped and resourced to fulfill their potential.”
“Most kids are technically not orphans, as their parents are not deceased, but rather abandoned children. Parents just walk away from their children or they themselves are trafficked and end up being workers in other countries,” Klassen explains. “One of the main sources of dysfunction we find in Moldova is the high alcoholism rate. Statistics showed Moldovans consume more alcohol per capita than any other countries in the world – leading to all kinds of dysfunction, domestic abuse and ending up disrupting the family environment.”
Klassen adds that they define success as young people ready to transition to independent living – having found sustainable employment – and actually moving out of Stella’s Voice houses – empowered for their future.
Three young women with whom he and his wife connected through their church’s short term mission trip in 2012 are inspiring examples. One woman reunited with her mother and is now working in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau. The other is a Marriott Hotel front desk supervisor in southern England. The third married an Assemblies of God pastor. The couple are now serving as campus pastors for a church in Alabama.
How you can give hope and end human trafficking
Ride or walk with Stella’s Voice on Sept 30 in Ride for Refuge – a fun and family-friendly event to raise funds for the charity. Stella’s Voice currently accommodates 36 girls in two Stella’s Houses and 13 boys in their Simon’s House. Financial support is always appreciated, as is prayer.
Klassen stresses, “We believe that prayer changes things. Pray for those enslaved or at risk of being enslaved; against government corruption and complicity in trafficking; for justice to prevail even within the government and Moldova.”
When it comes to labour trafficking, he highlights the importance of conscientious purchasing. Consider if the item is a product of forced labour and where it was produced. Klassen encourages sensitivity to these issues so we can make good choices, as ethical and responsible consumers in God’s kingdom. He hopes that education and awareness of human trafficking will inspire people to take practical action. “So many people don’t know the extent of the problem…, just how extensive and pervasive it is and how many millions of people are being impacted by this on a daily basis.”