Romanian police say four suspects, including one German, were detained on August 28 for their involvement in an alleged human-trafficking and slave-labor ring perpetrated on minors in the country’s northwestern Maramures county.
The Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) says eight suspects used a German-registered program for troubled youth as an alleged front for trafficking minors from Germany.
The children, aged 12 to 18 years, were allegedly deprived of food, beaten, and forced to do exhausting work. Some of them tried to kill themselves, the Romania Journal reported.
The program in Romania was headed by a German couple, one of whom police detained on August 28. The program received funding from the German state and was licensed by the Romanian Labor Ministry.
Twenty children were found at a farm when prosecutors searched it along with seven other houses.
Four of them were placed with the child-protection agency, while authorities didn't say where the other 16 were.
Germany’s Embassy to Romania has been notified about the case and consular services are being provided.
The abuse of the children allegedly took place from 2014 until this month.
German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr told the AFP news agency that "in the previous 20 years we have not been aware of any problems."
"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.