Begging among Roma children, which had been decreasing in many European countries at the beginning of this decade, has recently become more visible again, along with a rise in anti-Roma and anti-Traveller discourse and attitudes in many member states, according to a report of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Roma and Traveller Issues. However, according to the experts, socio-economic measures addressing the root causes of begging and improving living conditions in Roma communities should be given priority over judicial responses, such as criminalising begging.
The report states that, while statistics are hard to establish, research shows that begging does not usually occur with criminal intent, but is rather the result of extreme poverty. Roma children may be pushed to beg by family members or by third parties to pay off debts. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the economic situation of Roma communities throughout Europe.
The report identifies effective responses to the problem in some European countries; they range from national helplines for children in danger to workshops set up to expand employability and skills of Roma. The report recommends several actions, including:
Supporting Roma families with socio-economic programmes, such as school mediation and monthly allowances to ensure that children go to school;
Improving protection of the children concerned, including access to legal assistance. Removing the child from its family should only be used as a last resort;
Facilitating the participation of child protection specialists, Roma mediators and interpreters in proceedings.
The experts conclude that effective solutions to abolish child begging in Europe require a differentiated approach. Developing suitable living conditions and ensuring access to kindergartens can decrease child begging, for example. By raising education levels and improving access to employment and to social and health services, more Roma can escape extreme poverty. This, in the long run, would be more effective than simply resorting to the criminalisation of child begging.
Roma children begging: criminalisation is not the only answer, says anti-discrimination committee