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Child Begging

While child trafficking for begging is gaining significant international attention in 2003 – 2005, statistical evidence and policy response to this form of exploitation is declining. Firstly, as illustrated above, Italy and Austria, both typical destination countries, register very few victims of trafficking for the past two recorded years of 2012 and 2013 (8 and 16 victims officially identified by law enforcement bodies in Italy respectively and three victims identified in Austria). Neither of the countries provides data particularly on begging as a form of exploitation.

Expert assessments point out that more than 90 % of the children begging on the streets of EU countries are of Roma origin. Service provider in Austria quoted in the Austrian country report alerts that around 20 % of begging could be related to a criminal network and could be considered as child trafficking.

The limited caseloads of identified children victims of trafficking for begging exploitations provides little empirical evidence of the profiles and vulnerability factors of the Roma minority to trafficking. Most information on child trafficking for begging refers to the period between 2003 – 2004 when several such cases were investigated, including Romanian children from Calarasi trafficked to Italy and Bulgarian children, trafficked to Austria.

Moreover, uncovered cases of child trafficking for begging reveal the vulnerability of impoverished Roma families to exploitation through recruitment through usury and bonded labour. The identification of Bulgarian child victims of trafficking in Austria in 2004 revealed that children were sold by their parents for EUR 200 – 300 that children had to “earn back” to traffickers.

The limited caseload of identified victims of child trafficking for begging in recent years can be correlated with the increased involvement of parents and relatives in the organisation of begging activities across the countries studies. The tendency of involvement of parents in begging activities leaves confusion among authorities whether exploitation exists and whether cases could be considered as child trafficking.

Clearly, children begging on the streets fall within protection of international legislation on worst forms of child labour as well as trafficking in persons, when delivered to third party. The country researches however revealed that instances of child begging in all seven countries are rarely questioned or investigated by authorities, and rarely, if at all, investigated along anti-trafficking legislation.

In Italy, prejudices and cultural bias of begging as a “traditional Roma” practice lowers the threshold of alertness to possible exploitation of the children. There is therefore a large degree of discretion on the part of local institutions in deciding whether or not to take action when a Roma child is found begging on the street, and if so what sort of action to take. Similarly, in Greece children found begging on the streets with adults are most commonly treated under the legislation related to begging (Article 409 of the Penal Code), with charges pressed against the parent or the adult who has been ascertained as the child’s legal guardian. In Austria, efforts of child-protection institutions to counteract the involvement of children in begging are faced with contradictory response from different agents in society, both Roma and non-Roma.

A recent phenomenon identified in Austria related to child begging is so called “poverty travellers”. The majority of the “poverty travellers” are of Roma origin and came from Romania, Poland and Slovakia; very few of them are from Hungary, Czech Republic and Bulgaria. Income generation in Austria concentrates on begging, day-to-day work and single cases of prostitution.

Contextual understanding on the child begging phenomenon is necessary to provide knowledge on the situation and profiles of children involved in these activities, in view of identifying vulnerabilities to trafficking. Currently, there is limited empirical knowledge on the profiles and situations of child begging, mostly gathered through service providers in destination countries. However, two main typologies of begging children can be delineated in all countries – children between 0-5 years old, accompanying a begging adult (usually a mother); and children aged between 5-18 begging alone, in groups, or accompanying adults. The profiles of begging children are based mainly on expert evaluations and vary across the seven countries. Substantial differences are reported in respect of the age of children involved in begging. The expert evaluations in Austria and Italy, report similar ages: between 10 and 13 in Austria, and 10 years and above in Italy. In Greece, however – the third primarily destination country among those participating in the research – two separate age groups are reported: the larger group of children up to 15 years, and the smaller group of infants aged 0 to 6, which is assessed as most present among children used in begging and similar activities. The exception to this rule is children with disabilities, who are considered among the „more successful“ groups for begging regardless of the age group.

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