Albanian Girls Trafficked For Sex

In the tiny and very poor village of Fushara in northern Albania, the girls are disappearing.

Frane Bicaku's teenage daughter, Valentina, vanished from their home more than a year ago. She hasn't been heard from since.

Gjin Lleshi lost two daughters: one was 15 and the other 17. He says they were taken by men who promised to marry them. Instead, the girls wound up as teenage prostitutes on the streets of Italy, smuggled there by the Albanian mafia.

It happens almost every day, in just about every village and town in Albania.

"They are kidnapped mostly," says Lydia Bici of the International Catholic Migration Commission. "The minors are mostly kidnapped from discos or bars or the streets [and] even from the schools."

In some villages, families have stopped sending their teenage girls to school, fearing they could be kidnapped and taken to a world they can hardly imagine.

"A majority, it seems like, of the women who are trafficked are under 18 years old," says Sophie Mosko of Save the Children. "They're demanded younger and younger in the sex trade because there's less fear of AIDS."

There are now about 30,000 Albanian prostitutes walking the streets of Europe. In a country of only about 3 million people, that is almost 1 percent of the Albanian population. It is believed that most of these prostitutes were trafficked into Europe as children.

Forced Into Prostitution

Two years ago, 15-year-old Mariana Lleshi was lured away from her home by a local shop owner who said he wanted to take her to Italy and marry her. For three weeks her parents heard nothing from her.

Then they received a horrifying letter, in which Mariana told her parents she had first been driven to the northern Albanian city of Skhoder, where the man who had promised to marry her said there would be no marriage. His true plan, he said, was to sell her as a prostitute. When she resisted, he took out a knife and forced her to go with him.

For Mariana, there was no escape, as she was driven south through Albania's heartland. Those who have been lucky enough to get away from their captors say the traffickers are ruthless and often violent.

Like most of the future prostitutes smuggled out of Albania, Mariana was taken to the southern port city of Vlore, the epicenter of the country's smuggling industry. From there, it is only approximately 70 miles across the Adriatic Sea to the Italian coast. With their high-speed boats, traffickers can cover that distance in less than two hours.

According to Albanian police, the boats can carry more than 40 people at a time. And when they reach Italy, the girls and young women are sold to a pimp. Their value is then determined by their age, beauty and experience.

"I mean a young virgin-like girl, by the time she gets to Italy could be worth as much as $10,000," says Degan Ali of the International Organization for Migration. "She's a real investment."

Many prostitutes work for nothing. One former prostitute who was kidnapped at the age of 17 told ABCNEWS that even though she made about $500 a night, her pimp took it all. One night when he found money tucked in her underwear, he drugged her and beat her until she was unconscious.

"The next time I saw myself, I was stark naked on the bed," she recalls. "A friend of mine helped me to get up. I was covered in blood."

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