Traffickers exploit thousands of children
Not long ago, young children dressed in rags used to approach drivers waiting at traffic lights and ask them for money. Those children disappeared about a year ago. Did they go back to their own countries and the bosom of their families, or did they find homes and families to feed them and care for them? «Those children have shifted to businesses where they beg or sell tissues or flowers,» Costas Yiannopoulos, president of the Child’s Smile organization, told Kathimerini. «The problem still exists,» he added. «It is just that the authorities have made sure it is not visible.» The exploitation of children has taken on huge dimensions in the developed world, with an estimated 60 million children working in conditions that put them at bodily and psychological risk. Official data are not available for Greece, but a rough estimate puts the number of children under the age of 14 who are working illegally at around 5,000. According to Yiannopoulos, «the number must be considerably greater, and the fact that there are no official data, as well as the lack of any coordinating center means that the attempt to deal with the problem comes up against a brick wall.» Another factor which makes it difficult to tackle the phenomenon is the lack of legislation concerning illegal trafficking in children. «The laws dealing with the trafficking of children in Greece are inadequate,» says Maria Panousi, member of the Athens Bar Association and the Committee for the Rights of Minors. «The current policy usually leads to punishment of the victim and not of the perpetrator, while children are arrested and imprisoned for begging on the streets.» The children of migrants and children who have been sent to Greece from abroad by traffickers for the sole purpose of financial gain are thought to be more vulnerable and more likely to become victims of exploitation. So, when such children are found, the prime concern is to return them to their families, if the latter have not been judged unsuitable. But this is a difficult undertaking, as cooperation with their countries of origin is not always practicable. Reliable procedures for repatriating children who have fallen victim to exploitation, and confirmation that repatriation will result in them coming back to Greece can only be achieved through the exchange of information among non-governmental organizations and the competent state agencies and mechanisms.