Romanian authorities say they have busted a human trafficking and child slavery ring in the country’s northwestern Maramures county.
The Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) on August 27 raided eight houses as part of an investigation into eight people on suspicion of trafficking and abusing German children who were allegedly beaten and kept in slavelike conditions.
The children, aged 12 to 18 years, were allegedly deprived of food and forced to do exhausting work. Some of them tried to kill themselves, the Romania Journal reported.
A German couple are among the suspects. They ran Project Maramures, a German-registered program for troubled youth but which allegedly was a front for human trafficking, according to DIICOT.
The project was licensed by Romania’s Labor Ministry and had funding from the German state.
The abuse of the children allegedly took place from 2014 until this month.
“Actually, the youngsters were held hostage, were banned from talking to their families in Germany or to other people or authorities in Romania and they were forced to do exhausting work in the households of some locals close to the criminal group, under the pretext of a so-called ‘reeducation program’ masterminded by the German citizens,” DIICOT said.
Authorities didn’t say how many children were victims, but some of them were placed in the custody of child-protection services.
The project’s website states that 61 children have been cared for since it started and that the program has the capacity of hosting 20 children at a time with host families.