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They are poor, uneducated and naive, and often have been abused at home. They are also prime targets for pimps trying to lure Romanian women into the region’s sex trade. A survey by a group that helps rescue women forced into prostitution says that potential victims in Romania are largely from the impoverished regions of Moldavia in the north and Muntenia in the south who have gravitated to big cities, hoping for a better life.

The International Organization for Migration, which helps trafficked women return to their homes, said it has aided more than 315 women since January 2000, 23 percent of them minors, the youngest 14.

Only four have returned to prostitution, but some have become traffickers themselves, the organization says. Nearly 70 percent of the women were taken to the former Yugoslavia, mostly to war-torn Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; another 18 percent were smuggled into Albania.

The organization has conducted an extensive poster and leaflet campaign to warn Romanian women about the sex slave trade.

But some were made offers they apparently couldn’t refuse. During the summer, scores of women ages 19 to 39 in the western Carpathian town of Carasova fell prey to the blandishments of recruiters from nearby Serbia and left home on promises of lucrative work in Greece.

They have simply vanished into the trafficking underground. “Young mothers, young wives, all gone,” said an IOM worker.

Last November, the Romanian parliament passed a law that prohibits trafficking and punishes offenders with prison sentences of three to 12 years. So far, 77 people have been arrested.

David Binder covered the Balkans for The New York Times starting in 1963. He continues to travel in and report on the region.

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