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Pick-Pocketing

Similar to other forms of exploitation, the officially registered child victims of pick-pocketing in the seven countries studied provide little evidence on the profiles of victims. In Austria, Italy, Greece, Slovakia and Hungary there are no officially registered victims in the year 2013. The lack of data collection in Greece is a direct result of non-recognition of exploitation for pick-pocketing as a form of trafficking explicitly in law. Greece does not explicitly recognise exploitation for participation in criminal activities as a form of trafficking.

Information on officially registered children VoT for pick-pocketing is available in two of the typical origin countries – Bulgaria and Romania. Romanian authorities report eight cases of children victims of trafficking for pick-pocketing registered in the first six months of 2013, three victims registered in 2012 and two identified in 2011. In Bulgaria, official statistics as per criminal proceedings do not indicate the victims of trafficking for pick-pocketing, but information of such cases is provided by the Bulgarian State Agency for Child Protection.

Apart from official statistics, interviewed service providers and representatives of institutions shed some light on the profiles of children, victims of trafficking for pick-pocketing as well as on children, committing petty crimes, who are at risk of exploitation for trafficking.

In all countries with the exception of Hungary, service providers and experts signal that most child victims of trafficking for pick-pocketing have Roma background. Generally, the research teams found a number of similarities between children involved in begging and those involved in pick-pocketing, with two important differences: pick-pocketing is not necessarily connected with poverty, and is generally not perceived as admissible within Roma communities. According to service providers in Bulgaria, child victims of trafficking for pick-pocketing are from well-off families, are literate and have finished some degree of education.

Gender specifics of children involved in pick-pocketing are not identified in Hungary, Italy and Romania. Girls predominate in Austria, Bulgaria and Greece, and boys are most frequently found among pick-pocketing children in Slovenia.

The age group of the children is very much dependant on how and by whom they have been involved. When pick-pocketing is organised by (extended) family, or by third persons, and especially when children are trafficked abroad, they are usually under the age of criminal liability in the respective country (under 14 in most of the cases). The youngest ages of minor pick-pocketers are reported in Greece, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia. When minors are involved by family in law through the mechanism of early marriage, or by peers as a result of a criminalised environment, their reported age is older.

Both in Romania and Bulgaria, children trafficked for pick-pocketing are first exploited for such activities within the countries, after which they are transported abroad. Elements of a “rotation system” have been observed, according to the interviewed expert from the Drehscheibe – Vienna, in which children remain in one place/country only for a short period of time, and once they get in difficulties with authorities, the child would have to move immediately to another country. Children assisted at the Drehscheibe shelter in Vienna, who had been caught committing pick-pocketing, are almost entirely of Roma origin and mostly girls. Reportedly, the girls would be forced to make up to EUR 350 per day. If they do not deliver, the girls would experience violence or may be forced into prostitution.

According to the Bulgarian and Italian national reports, a typical recruitment strategy in Bulgaria and Italy for children victims of pick-pocketing is early marriage into a family operating a such network. Involvement within the frame of income-generating activities of the closer or of the extended family is reported in Bulgaria, Italy, Romania and Slovakia. Other strategies employed are similar to the recruitment of children for begging and may involve “bonded labour” where the child is used to return and multiply a sum paid to the family by a member of the criminal network. The cited amounts paid to families vary from 1000 – 3000 EUR, as identified by an Italian research report, to ?20,000, according to a police officer interviewed in Romania. In the latter case, fake documents of the children were also used for abuse with social benefits in the UK.

There are several key factors that challenge significantly investigation of exploitation for children for pick-pocketing. Firstly, when operating within a family network, children performing pick-pocketing do not feel victims of exploitation. Evidence from Austria, Bulgaria and Italy reveals that such children may be rewarded for their illicit activities and may feel proud to contribute to the family income. Emotional ties with the family and/or the high level of dependency and loyalty between family members are identified as methods of control in all countries with the exception of Greece. Secondly, the crime can only be investigated if the child is caught in the act. Even in such cases, linkage to adults profiting from these activities cannot be traced. Children are thus criminalised, if they are of prosecutable age, or are referred to the respective authorities if they are below the age of criminalisation.

Although Hungary and Slovakia do not have any registered cases of children trafficked for pick-pocketing, country researches established particular risk groups to child trafficking for pick-pocketing. In Hungary, pick-pocketing, as part of crimes committed in youth gangs, exposes children to a highly criminalised culture.

More detailed information on the topic of children trafficking for pick-pocketing can be found in the Synthesis report.