Romanian prosecutors on Wednesday detained several employees of a youth center over accusations they exploited German teenagers under a social program designed to help troubled minors, judicial sources told AFP.
At least four minors have been rescued, while eight suspects, including a German couple, are under investigation for allegedly detaining children in “slavery-like conditions.”
The German couple in charge of the program were brought in for questioning, according to a representative of the youth center who requested anonymity.
Three Romanian employees were also detained, news agency Mediafax said.
According to the local child protection agency, 20 children were at the center -- a remote farm in northern Romania -- when prosecutors searched it on Tuesday along with seven other houses.
Four of the children have been placed with the child protection agency, waiting for their parents or other guardians to pick them up, agency spokesman Adrian Mandru told AFP. He could not say where the other 16 are now.
Prosecutors allege that, under the so-called “Projekt Maramures,” children aged between 12 and 18 were forced to “do exhausting physical labor” and treated in “humiliating and degrading” ways in the farm and in numerous households in the Maramures county village of Viseu de Sus.
The teens were deprived of food, not allowed to study or take their prescription medicines, had no contact with the outside world and were targets of “harsh and brutal methods of so-called re-education,” they said.
The project, financed by the German state, was founded and coordinated by one of the German suspects and licensed by Romania’s labor ministry, according to investigators.
The project promised to “rehabilitate” troubled children from Germany with recreational activities and psychological assistance.
According to the program’s website, the project targeted minors suffering from behavioral disorders or drug addiction.
The center said that it organized “educational and recreational activities in the middle of nature” under the supervision of experts in pedagogy and psychology.