The new western-leaning government in Moldova faces many challenges in the southern European country. Increasing parts of the population are leaving in search of a better life. But many return disillusioned.
In Soviet times, Moldova was thriving. Today, it is one of the poorest countries in Europe. The town of Costesti, home to 12,000 people, is in an isolated and bleak region some 35 kilometers south of Moldova's capital Chisinau. The roads are unsurfaced, the homes deserted or run down.
In the local secondary school, 25 soon-to-be graduates are following instructions. When the teacher asks them who wants to go abroad after they finish school, almost all hands shoot up in the air.
"I want to study and then work abroad if it's possible," said 17-year-old Docina. "And I want to travel to other countries, to see how people live there, and learn other languages." She said she doesn't see any occupational future in her country.
"No, because Moldova is a poor country," Docina said. Her classmate Christina said she dreams of a career as a designer.
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No occupational future
These girls don't know where they're going to go - maybe to Russia, Spain, Italy or even the United States. They don't really know what the work conditions are in those countries. But they are certain that it must be better than in Moldova. After all, one of their parents is also working abroad. In most cases, it's the mothers who earn their money elsewhere.
"We telephone regularly and once a year, my mother comes to visit," many young people report.
They don't see any future for themselves in their home country. It's understandable, considering the current monthly wage of some 140 euros ($206). Also, they all agree that Moldova is simply too poor. The girls said they believe they can only bring forward their country from far away when they emigrate.
These young women are right in their assumption. Migration has developed into a central economic factor for Moldova. Last year, emigrants from Moldova transferred $2 billion to their home country, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This was more than the entire national budget, IOM said.
Danger of human trafficking
One quarter of the country's four million people has already left Moldova. Many children grow up with only one parent. Often, the fathers stay behind, are overtaxed with the situation and drink away their sorrows.
Single mothers in search of prosperity are particularly easy prey for human traffickers. Though the numbers of victims in the past three years has fallen from 507 to 151, the problem still exists, said Elena Mereacre. The former librarian founded the organization "Compasiune" - or "compassion" - in Costesti eight years ago.
"We have 12 children here who with their mothers fell into the hands of human traffickers in Poland, Russia and Ukraine," Mereacre said. "They had to beg on the streets from morning till night and weren't allowed to keep any of the money."
"When they return here, the children are often emotionally and physically shattered," Mereacre said. Sometimes, women emigrate and then return to their native villages with one or two children - the undesired "by product" of years of prostitution. The main countries of destination are Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
"They don't dare to tell their relatives about it because they are ashamed," Mereacre said. "Many relationships end in divorce. The husbands are mainly concerned with saving face. They don't want the entire village to find out that their own family fell victim to human traffickers."
Mereacre sees to these children. Her organization, funded by donations from abroad, offers sewing and cooking courses for the women. She said she tries on a small scale to give them a prospect for the future and above all, enable them to live a life with dignity.
Empathy for human traffickers
Whether there are in fact less victims of human trafficking is debatable, said Martin Wintersberger from the EU Border Assistance Mission. He said he could not rule out a certain glut in this sector.
Experts report however that the traffickers themselves have also changed their technique. Though the victims live and work in difficult conditions abroad, they often have more rights than they used to. They are allowed to send money home and telephone with their relatives.
Sometimes, the human trafficker mutates for his victims into an almost nice guy, said Lidia Gorceag, a psychologist in a counseling center for former sex-trafficking victims.
"When a woman who comes from complete poverty suddenly lives in a nice hotel, always has a full refrigerator, hot water and nice bedding, that can alter their view for reality," Gorceag said. In a recent case she treated, she needed two months of convincing to get a woman to see the truth.
But in order to keep women from getting into such a situation in the first place, Moldova has to first fight poverty. This is one of the central challenges for the country's western-leaning government elected earlier this year.