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Frane Bicaku's teenage daughter, Valentina, vanished from their home more than a year ago. She hasn't been heard from since. Gjin Lleshi lost two daughters: one was 15 and the other He says they were taken by men who promised to marry them. Instead, the girls wound up as teenage prostitutes on the streets of Italy, smuggled there by the Albanian mafia. In some villages, families have stopped sending their teenage girls to school, fearing they could be kidnapped and taken to a world they can hardly imagine.
There are now about 30, Albanian prostitutes walking the streets of Europe. In a country of only about 3 million people, that is almost 1 percent of the Albanian population.
It is believed that most of these prostitutes were trafficked into Europe as children. Two years ago, year-old Mariana Lleshi was lured away from her home by a local shop owner who said he wanted to take her to Italy and marry her. For three weeks her parents heard nothing from her. Then they received a horrifying letter, in which Mariana told her parents she had first been driven to the northern Albanian city of Skhoder, where the man who had promised to marry her said there would be no marriage.
His true plan, he said, was to sell her as a prostitute. When she resisted, he took out a knife and forced her to go with him. For Mariana, there was no escape, as she was driven south through Albania's heartland. Those who have been lucky enough to get away from their captors say the traffickers are ruthless and often violent. Like most of the future prostitutes smuggled out of Albania, Mariana was taken to the southern port city of Vlore, the epicenter of the country's smuggling industry.
From there, it is only approximately 70 miles across the Adriatic Sea to the Italian coast. With their high-speed boats, traffickers can cover that distance in less than two hours.