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Gypsy Child Thieves (2009)
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Gypsy Child Thieves (2009)

This World

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If you’ve travelled in Europe you will know the dangers of the Roma, or Gypsy, children who stake out the major tourist centres and swarm around visitors aiming to stealing their money, credit cards and other valuables. Now Producer Liviu Tipurita, using hidden cameras and some remarkable detective skills, shows how these children operate. Far from acting alone he reveals how many of them are involved in a system of organised crime that stretches right across the continent, a system the police say they cannot stop.

It’s a scene many travellers in Europe have experienced. You go to an automatic teller machine and you suddenly find two or amore children approaching you. One seeks to distract while the other snatches the money coming out the machine, or tries to steal your wallet. It’s a high risk strategy but for many Roma, or Gypsy, kids it pays off.

Daniela is just thirteen. She has little or no education but her pick-pocketing in Madrid can earn her $500 from a successful robbery. If she gets away she takes the money to her mother to buy food with – and ultimately, perhaps, a house in Romania. If she is caught, the police take the money and place her in a day care centre for children and then she is set free to try again. Because the age of criminal responsibility in Spain is 14 years the police say there is little they can do.

If the problem of Roma children is bad in Madrid, it is virtually out of control in parts of Italy. The government declared a state of emergency after several major crimes were blamed on the Gypsy children. In 2007, after Romania entered the European Union, there was a major upsurge in crime across Italy. In Milan police launched a major investigation involving phone taps and surveillance. What they discovered shocked them. Criminal gangs were using the children to generate massive profits. Some children were earning over $20,000 a month. They weren’t getting the money though. The cash was going to benefit crime bosses with headquarters in Romania.

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