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Sold for $12,000: Tackling child trafficking in Kyrgyzstan

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Rumilya, now 18, was trafficked from Kyrgyzstan to the United Arab Emirates and sexually exploited as a child.

The World Congress III against the Sexual Exploitation of Children, set for 25-28 November 2008 in Brazil, aims to promote international cooperation for more effective action on sexual exploitation. Here is one in a series of related stories.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, 19 November 2008 – Rumilya's life changed when her mother was detained for theft. Rumilya, then 12, and her sister Lili, then 16, were sent to live with 'caregivers'. One of them, Madina, had other ideas.

Madina told Rumilya that if she went to Dubai, she would be able to earn enough to pay for her mother's release. Rumilya understood even then that her work in Dubai would probably involve sexual exploitation, but at her age she had little understanding of what that meant. All she wanted was to be reunited with her mother.

Madina organized Rumilya's passage to Dubai. The girl was given a false passport and a new name.

Sold for $12,000

Once in Dubai, Rumilya was locked in a flat and her passport was taken away. Then she was 'sold' for $12,000. Six months later, Lilia was trafficked to Dubai as well, and the two sisters turned to alcohol to escape reality.

When she could take no more, Rumilya tried to kill herself by jumping out of a fourth-floor window, but she survived. After her hospitalization, she suffered further by being thrown in jail for being a commercial sex worker and having no passport.

Five months later, the Kyrgyz Ambassador helped to release her and she was deported back to Kyrgyzstan with support from the International Organization for Migration.

Not a unique story

Rumilya's story is not unique. On her way to Dubai, and while she was staying there, Rumilya met many other girls from Kyrgyzstan. The country doesn't keep records on child trafficking, but UNICEF's research suggests that child trafficking is occurring in greater numbers than is currently acknowledged in Kyrgyzstan.

When Rumilya arrived back home, she was provided protection and care at the Rehabilitation Centre for Homeless and Disadvantaged Children. The facility, opened by the government in 2003, is supported by UNICEF and its partners. She stayed there for two years.

The centre's psychologist, Galina Dehnich, developed a special programme to help Rumilya through her rehabilitation. The hardest task was getting her to believe that her life could start again.

"She wanted to speak out about what happened to her and we talked for days," said the Director of the centre, Alexi Petrushevskii.  "I will never forget her face when she was going home to celebrate the 2006 New Year."

Working for the centre

Last year, Rumilya gave birth to a son. She often drops in at the rehabilitation centre to share her happy and sad moments, and to help other children overcome the pain of sexual exploitation.

Just this month, Rumilya became the head of the centre's youth club. Its main goal is to provide a safe place for vulnerable children and young people where they can socialize, share their interests and experiences, and receive help of social workers and psychologists.

The names of the girls in this story have been changed.




UNICEF’s Guy Degen relates the story of Rumilya, an 18-year-old girl from Kyrgyzstan who was trafficked and sexually exploited.
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