Submitted by Guest Blogger Aida Salcinovic, independent journalist

“Are you a stranger?” an eight-year-old Kosovar girl asks her teacher. She is playing an educational game with a group of children at an asylum center in Bosnia–Herzegovina. The game, designed by USAID’s Sustainable Interventions to Combat Trafficking in Persons (SUSTAIN) and the Women’s Initiative Foundation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, educates children on the dangers of trafficking and challenges them to think about whom they should, and should not, trust. It also provides them with a forum for discussing their questions and talking about their experiences.

Children take turns rolling the dice, and when it’s their turn, they are asked a question by a teacher who has been specifically trained to work with refugee children at risk of trafficking. Questions are designed to help children recognize safe and unsafe situations and to encourage them to make sound choices. Children learn, for example, that they should never go with a stranger—even if that person offers them help or invites them to join in a fun activity. Over the course of the game, the children’s answers become more confident:  “I won’t go with a stranger—not even to play video games or watch a movie.”

A twelve-year-old describes how an older boy approached her near her school and offered her chocolate. She concludes proudly, “But I ran away!” The children quickly learn that no chocolate or video game is worth the risk.

This simple game has allowed educators to reach out to youth at risk of trafficking in an innovative and effective way.  While the overall number of trafficking victims has been declining in Bosnia–Herzegovina, growing numbers of children have been trafficked for organized begging. Roma children are particularly vulnerable, as low employment rates in the community can lead to children to beg (and to fall victim to organized crime). Trafficking in the region has also become more sophisticated and therefore more difficult to detect. Victims of sexual exploitation, for example, are harbored in private apartments (rather than in bars or other public places). As a result, educating those most at risk in how to identify potentially dangerous situations and avoid them is more essential than ever.

The SUSTAIN project, which is implemented by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), raises awareness and educates new generations about the dangers of human trafficking. CRS’s approach is cross-sectoral and includes experts from NGOs as well as teachers, education experts, and orphanage personnel. All of these actors play a crucial role in helping at-risk youth recognize potential trafficking situations and avoid becoming victims, helping to prevent and stem trafficking.

The US Government remains committed to helping Bosnia–Herzegovina combat trafficking through projects such as SUSTAIN.