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Life lessons: Teaching the most vulnerable youth in Moldova how to avoid the trap of trafficking

© UNICEF/Moldova
The children from the boarding school in Corteni are learning how to find a place of work.

By Tatiana Tibuleac

“From this moment, forget that you are at a boarding school. Nobody will solve your problems and you will have no one to ask for help. With this money you will have to feed a family of three people for three days,” says Emilia Mocanu, principal of the state-sponsored boarding school of Cahul. With that advice and a bit of money in hand – 50 lei (US$ 3.50) for each student – she sends them out into the world to experience life on their own …or least to get a taste of what life will be like once they are old enough to be independent. 

The children are expected to go to the local market, buy groceries, and cook for three days all by themselves. The experiment is part of “life lessons”, an initiative promoted by Mocanu and supported by a UNICEF project known as “Social Integration for Preventing Trafficking in Human Beings”.
“Children from institutions [like this school] need this kind of experience very much. They are not used to taking care of themselves. Here in Cahul, they are provided with everything: housing, food, clothing, and games. Some of them live like this for 10 years. When they leave Cahul, they find themselves in a totally strange environment. That is why we try to show them what real life looks like,” explained Ms. Mocanu.

Last month, the children learned to look for a job. They spent a day trying to get various employers to hire them and, out of more than 20 young people, only two managed to convince employers that they had something to offer.

Alexandru, 14 years old, says it was difficult for him. “I tried to get a job as a computer engineer. I thought I was quite competent in the field but I saw that without the relevant education it would be difficult for me to find a decent paying job. With my current education and skills, I could work illegally but I prefer to be on the safe side. I certainly will continue my studies”.

Cristina, another student, admits that she never imagined it would be so difficult to find a job. “I thought it would be rather easy to find a job as a secretary, but at the interview they fired question after question at me: ‘How many foreign languages do you know? Do you know how to use a computer? What is your typing speed?’ I realised then that I couldn’t do those things very well.”

Ms. Mocanu says that as a result of these exercises, the young people not only have more realistic ideas, but also improved their academic results. “I believe that they now understand that without an education, they will be not able to do anything in life. Now, all the students that participated are trying to improve their studies.”

© UNICEF/Moldova
Children are getting ready to go experience life on their own at the local market. A "reality lesson" at the state-sponsored boarding school of Cahul.

Meanwhile, after several hours of shopping, the young people return from the market and bring their purchases to the school canteen.  They have to explain how they will distribute the groceries over three days and what dishes they will cook. Half of the children, according to school cooks, have not performed well in this task. They bought sweets, ice cream, cheese and other luxury foods they do not normally get to eat. None of them remembered to buy something appropriate to feed a child, although this was a specific part of the task. At the end, the principal delivered her verdict: “The conclusion is that you do not think as adults. With what you bought, you cannot feed a family, especially for three days. And if you had a child to take care of, s/he would definitely be hungry.”

There are 68 boarding schools in Moldova, schools that essentially serve as institutions for children separated from their families. Unfortunately, for many children without parental care, institutionalization is the only available alternative offered by the state. Some children go to institutions at an early age and spend a great part of their childhood and adolescence there. Many feel lost when they leave, afraid and unprepared for the realities of independent life. As a result, these young people become highly vulnerable and exposed to a variety of risks, especially trafficking. In Moldova, young people are commonly lured by traffickers with offers of good jobs abroad (often in Italy, Turkey, Russia, Portugal  and Spain). To date, one-third of the country’s population have migrated to other areas in search of employment. For those who fall into the hands of traffickers, employment often means prostitution, begging or domestic slavery.

Programmes like the “Social Integration for Preventing Trafficking in Human Beings Project,” are designed to help protect children like Cristina and Alexandru from falling for these traps by helping them to not only understand the dangers that await them in the outside world but by giving them the skills and confidence that they need to survive and build a productive future for themselves.

“We cannot yet determine the ultimate impact of the project. The children will leave school in a year or two, and that is when we will see if these life lessons have been useful for them. However, we can currently say that these children know more than they used to about taking care of themselves and they are less likely to become easy victims for traffickers,” says Angelina Zaporojan-Pirgari, coordinator of UNICEF’s Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings Project.
UNICEF is also supporting broader efforts to help children living in institutions, efforts that seek to reform and improve Moldova’s child welfare and protection system. One of the most important elements of this support includes developing and identifying viable alternatives to institutionalisation for children separated from their families – many of whom have been left behind as their parents are forced to migrate to find work. In 2005, Government data suggested that 35,000 school-age children are separated from both parents due to employment-driven migration and at least 75,000 children have one parent abroad.

To learn more about this issue or programme, please contact Tatiana Tibuleac at





Related links

Reference Guide on Protecting the Rights of Child Victims of Trafficking in Europe

Questions & Answers


Real lives stories


Hope for Marina, a 'social' orphan

Rebuilding a life: A young girl struggles to overcome the trauma of trafficking


Reaching out for a shelter



Regional resources on child trafficking

Resource package on Child Protection in CEE/CIS

UN Regional Consultation on Violence against Children in Europe and Central Asia



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