Street begging by kids usually instigated by their parents

During the Christmas holidays, there are always more beggars on the streets, among them a large number of children, whether hustling drivers at traffic lights or passengers on public transport, telling stories about sick parents or disabled siblings going hungry or homeless – stories guaranteed to get wallets to open. According to Police Chief Dimitris Stamatis, head of the juvenile protection department at Attica Security Headquarters, these children are being exploited by adults, usually their own parents. «If begging in a good position, a child can bring in as much as 100 euros a day, money that naturally the child doesn’t benefit from directly. Usually it is the child’s parents who see this is as an easy way for them to earn money without having to do anything themselves,» Stamatis said. The best positions are busy shopping districts, where passers-by who have already spent quite a bit on shopping are easy game. Other spots include public transport, where their targets are «captive,» and cafes and restaurants where people are relaxed and therefore more generous toward a child asking for money to buy food. According to police statistics, in 2004, 25 cases of begging were officially reported, involving two children aged 8-12, and 28 aged 13-18. In the first half of 2005 there were eight cases involving two children aged 8-12 and seven aged 13-18. The difference is due to the fact that children aged under 13 who are caught begging are not penalized; it is usually their parents who are prosecuted for neglect. However, in nearly all cases the parents are released since there is no one else to care for the children. Children aged over 12 are usually sent to an institution; often their parents are prosecuted as well. According to Stamatis, children found begging are usually from very disadvantaged homes, and are often Gypsies, both Greek and Albanian. In many cases their parents send them out to beg only as a seasonal occupation, as at Christmas. Supposedly in Greece there is no organized exploitation of children by criminal gangs. Although children used to be brought to Greece by gangs who had bought them from their families in Balkan countries, this practice has all but disappeared since several of these gangs were broken up. Any children now seen begging on the streets have usually been put there by their families. In recent years even this has been on the decrease, for two reasons. Firstly the police have been far more active in moving against begging, particularly during holiday seasons. Secondly, the public appears to be heeding the authorities’ appeals not to give these children money. Stamatis said that just stopping the children from begging is not enough; they also need to be protected. A child begging on the street, he added, is exposed to a number of dangers including sexual abuse and a descent into crime.

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