Mike Thomson reports from Italy
"It's one of the most horrendous things I've ever heard in all my life"
- Hilton Dawson MP, All-Party Parliamentary Children's Group
A young Albanian woman smiles as she bounces her infant daughter on her lap. The child giggles and bangs on the table in excitement. Things have worked out well for this small family. But it could have been very, very different.
In another room down the corridor a 22 year-old Roman woman is weeping. My visit, and request for an interview with Tatya (not her real name) brings back terrible memories.
After she has recovered her composure she tells me how nearly two years ago she had been stopped in the street and offered the chance to leave her small, impoverished village behind. A youth, who she knew quite well, said he knew people who could find her well paid work in Italy. It was, he said, the chance of a life time for her. He was lying.
A month later Tatya was smuggled into Italy by sea and then forced to work in a brothel to make back the money the trip had cost. A few months later she became pregnant and was taken by the men running the hospital to be examined by someone claiming to be a doctor. He confirmed she was five months pregnant. Three months later she was brought back to the same man who induced her to give birth.
Her baby was born without any apparent problems and seemed well. But before she even had the chance to hold him or even look at him properly, they took him away. “I remember just seeing his body. He was alive though.” She was never to see him again.
Two weeks later Tatya was put back on the streets and told to continue selling herself for sex. Within two months she was pregnant once more and the same gruesome ordeal was replayed again.
After carrying the child for eight months the birth was induced and the baby taken away from her within seconds of being born. She pleaded with the men to tell her what they had done with this baby and the one before him. “They told me that the babies had died but they were not telling me the truth, I know. I think that my babies were taken for their organs or to be sold.”
Within a fortnight of giving birth to the second baby Tatya was yet again put back on the streets to work as a prostitute. Luckily for her she was arrested by police for prostitution and taken to a safe house run by a priest after giving evidence against the gang.
On talking to other women at the safe house it soon became clear to her that her experiences were far from unique. “I know that this has happened to many, many girls. Many, many girls have had to do the same things that I had to do. Been put on the streets and got pregnant and then been forced to have the babies, been induced, for organs.”
The safe house Tatya now lives in is near the, city of Lecce in the far south of Italy and is run by Father Don Cesaire Lodeserto. He says he’s heard similar stories from scores of other women over the last few years. Father Lodeserto claims it’s now become clear to him (from talking to these women, as well as police officers who’ve investigated their claims) that the babies are taken for two main reasons. The first is to sell organs like kidneys and livers to meet growing demand from the international transplant industry. The second is to supply babies for illegal adoption, which can be a very profitable business.
Perhaps not surprisingly Father Lodeserto is not popular with people traffickers whose business he is interfering with. That at least partly explains why heavy steel gates dominate the entrance to his premises and armed police patrol behind a high wire fence. He told me: “Those of us who are looking after these people can’t be frightened all the time. But certainly, every time we take a woman off the street and save a child, we’re damaging criminals economically. Hitting them hard because we’re taking away their income. For the last three years I haven’t been able to go anywhere without a police escort provided by the state.”
But Father Lodeserto insists he has no plans to give up this work. Instead he says: “I think we all have to get together, non-government organisations, the police and the authorities to fight this odious crime. We’re trying to do what we can but we’ve got to do more.”
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