The Romanian Prosecutor’s Office has arrested three people and placed five others under investigation for alleged systematic mistreatment of German minors who were sent to Romania as part of a project for troubled youth.
Prosecutors allege that the project, which was licensed by Romania’s Labor Ministry and funded by the German government, was in fact used as a front for child labour and abuse, according to Radio Free Liberty.
A German couple who managed the centre and three Romanian employees were “taken by the prosecutors to be questioned,” for reducing adolescents to a condition close to “slavery”, inflicting “humiliating and degrading treatment” on them as well as “serious violence”, reports Romanian news agency Mediafax.
The Romanian Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime (DIICOT) searched eight eight houses in the Maramures region of Northern Romania where the centre is located.
The youth rehabilitation centre works with local residents who are supposed to take in adolescents with behavioural or substance abuse issues and offer them recreational activities under the supervision of experts in child psychology and education.
However, according to prosecutors, the children, aged between 12 and 18, “were held hostage, were banned from talking to their families in Germany or to other people or authorities in Romania and they were forced to do exhausting work in the households of some locals close to the criminal group, under the pretext of a so-called ‘reeducation program’ masterminded by the German citizens,” DIICOT said.
There were twenty children on site at the time the premises was shut down.
“Four of them were placed in a home, at the request of prosecutors, until their relatives come to pick them up,” said the authorities.
It is unknown how many children have suffered abuse at the centre since it started taking in adolescents in 2014.