Child beggars on Britain’s streets are financing lavish lifestyles for Romanian criminals, according to an investigation by Panorama.
Broadcast on Wednesday, the film showed children as young as four begging for money on London’s streets. The money is then taken by their minders and sent back to the homeland affording those behind the scam a luxury lifestyle.
Fronted by reporter John Sweeney, the programme revealed that the child beggars could rake in hundreds of pounds each day, while their minders lived off state benefits.
The gang place the earning potential of a single child in London not far off £100,000 a year,” said chief inspector Colin Carswell.
The children were filmed begging outside Regent’s Park Mosque, targeting worshippers as they left Friday prayers. The girls wore headscarves for the mosque scam. None were Muslim.
According to Christine Beddoe, UK director of ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking), forcing children into begging denies them the chance of a normal childhood.
"It means that they are denied an education, they'll have nutrition issues, health issues," she said. "They'll also grow up believing that this is the only way, or the normal way, of earning a living."
The probe traced much of the money back to a region called Tanderei, which Sweeney visited.
In one bizarre exchange, the reporter met with Petricia Dragusin, one of the organisers of the scam, who blamed the British taxpayer for being too open-handed.
“The blame is with the British state, which gives them money. Some have five sets of benefits,” she said.
Having secretly filmed one young girl for many months working in rain, sleet and wind, Sweeney described the scam as “a 21st century Oliver Twist”.