Dutch police have identified four criminal gangs who are putting Roma children on the streets to beg and steal in the Netherlands, the public prosecution department said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Dutch probe is part of an international investigation into the exploitation of some 300 children by criminal gangs in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Spain, the department said.
The children, ranging in age from eight to 16 – come from Bosnia, Croatia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia, the NRC reports. According to police spokesman Arthur de Rijk, they have been lured away from poor families and taught to steal in groups. They are expected to ‘earn’ up to €1,000 a day, he told the paper.
Some of the children were found in Spain last week and brought back to the Netherlands where they are now in the hands of social services.
They were found in police raids in Barcelona, where six children, ranging in age from under one to 15, were found living in a filthy home with a 49-year-old man and a 46-year-old woman, said to be from eastern Europe. Four of the children were already on a Dutch watch list.
‘They had been put under the supervision of Dutch social services earlier and so we are responsible for them,’ a prosecution department spokeswoman said. Eight other Roma children who are known to the Dutch authorities are still missing.
The children, put to work in groups, were stealing up to €1,000 a day, police said. The money was passed on to criminal families who spent it on fast cars, luxury homes and gambling, according to Dutch media reports.
The investigation began a year ago after police noticed they had been repeatedly arresting the same children pick-pocketing at Amsterdam’s central station.
‘We started to look into where the children lived,’ Arthur de Rijk said. ‘Their parents never came to pick them up. It was always other family members but they never had ID. Something was not right.’
In one case, dna tests showed the woman who came to fetch two children was not their mother, as she claimed to be. Various children were placed in care but encouraged to run away by their ‘families’.
The two adults arrested in Barcelona will be extradited to the Netherlands to face charges. Five of the children have been placed in a secure unit to stop them running away. A sixth remains in Spain where she has to serve a youth detention sentence.
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