Roma children part of ‘begging tourism’ during holiday period, warns children’s rights commissioner

Roma children part of ‘begging tourism’ during holiday period, warns children’s rights commissioner
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Experts advise against giving money to Roma children and families begging on the streets in cities during the holiday period, as it keeps the system of “begging tourism” in place.

Poor Roma families deliberately come to Belgium to beg on the streets, because they can collect more money than in their own countries, especially in the busy shopping streets during the winter holiday periods, according to several expert organisations.

Begging tourism is “a complex issue” according to the Brussels city services. Begging is not illegal, and the families are not stealing. On top of that, it is difficult to prove whether or not their children are being exploited.

Additionally, the fact that most of these families organise communal transport to Belgium does not mean that they are involved in organised crime, according to the European Roma Grassroots Organisations. Most families beg of their own free will, not because they have been forced to by a criminal organisation.

“Punishing the parents is not an option, because that means separating them from their child, which would make the children a victim again. I see more benefit in guiding those people. Either in Belgium, to get an income in another way, or by guiding them to their homeland,” said children’s rights commissioner Caroline Vrijens, reports De Standaard.

“That is why my French-speaking colleague and I want to sound the alarm, and see how we can encourage the right services to investigate the problem. I often hear that the situation is getting worse. In any case, it is unacceptable for children to live on the streets in this way,” she added.

When it gets really cold, Belgium offers night shelter. “But most of those families do not want that,” said Luc Bolssens of the Rom-en-Rom aid organisation, which focuses on helping families without steady housing, reports Het Nieuwsblad.

“They do not feel comfortable there. There is a language barrier, and sometimes there are scabies or bedbugs. The children usually do not suffer from the cold, as their parents protect them with cardboard,” he added.

The non-profit organisation Foyer, which focuses on social cohesion, as well as Child Focus, have both advised against giving money, so as not to maintain the system.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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