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Fatmira Bonjaku's husband is in jail, accused by police of selling their 3-year-old son to an Italian man in return for the television set that six other children watch in the family's dimly lighted room. The police also say her husband had plans to sell their newest born, whom she is breast-feeding. Bonjaku, interviewed at her family's two-room shack on the outskirts of this port city, denied that she intended to sell her newborn but admitted trading her son, Orazio, thinking the Italian man "would provide a good life.
Over the past 12 years, since the collapse of Stalinism, a substantial trade in children has established itself in Albania, Europe's most impoverished and most isolated country. No one has exact figures, but the government estimates that 6, children have been sent abroad for begging and prostitution, or in some cases sold to Western couples for adoption.
The vast majority, like the Bonjakus, come from the Jevgjit community, a group of some , Albanian-speaking Gypsies, who have fared even more poorly than most. Albania's anti-trafficking police estimate that more than 1, children are in Greece, working mainly as beggars.
The trafficking is part of a larger trade in human beings, including East European women shuffled through Albania for prostitution, and is an outgrowth of the misery and the organized crime that has blossomed in this clannish society. In Albania, most documented cases of child-trafficking have involved older children sold or rented by their families to minders or pimps, who take them to Greece and Italy, where they work as beggars or prostitutes.
In Pogradec, a town of 20, people near the Albania's border with Macedonia, a half-dozen young children beg on the waterfront most days. Judy Mitstifer, 43, a missionary from Liberty, Pa. Many of them, she said, are on the cusp of becoming child prostitutes and run a high risk of being trafficked. Our hope is that the school is attractive enough so they stay. Lila Shuli, who begs in Pogradec's streets, sends four of her children to Mitstifer's school.