Protect children on the move

Vulnerability of Bulgarian and Romanian Children to Trafficking in The Netherlands and in Brussels

Transnational Outreach Research

Publishers Mario Project
Author Iara De Witte & Mustafa Tarik Pehlivan
Zones The Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria, Belgium
Date of publication 2015
Total pages 81
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The research “Vulnerability of Bulgarian and Romanian Children to Trafficking in The
Netherlands and in Brussels (Belgium)” was conducted in the framework of the “Mario
II Project”, a European project aimed at improving the level of protection of migrant
children from Central and South East European (C/SEE) countries who are vulnerable to
abuse, exploitation and/or trafficking.

This report presents the main findings of the research that consisted of a desk review,
supplemented by interviews with stakeholders, case studies, and street observations.
Due to limited data on the research target-group available in The Netherlands, field
activities were expanded to include the neighbouring city of Brussels in Belgium.
Children’s involvement in begging-like activities in The Netherlands is very seldom
reported, and seems to mostly relate to cases from the past (around the year 2007).
There were also no indications of involvement of these children in other economic activities
like selling souvenirs to tourists, or other forms of activities. Children’s involvement in
criminal activities appears to be a tangible problem, which raises several concerns in
terms of child protection as well as crime control. However, due to the very nature of
these activities (hidden and incidental), it was rather difficult to detect and approach the
children involved during the field work.

Apparently, most of the children identified in these situations were children from C/SEE
countries who were not residing at a permanent address and/or who were (temporarily
or permanently) deprived of parental care. Indeed, the research found no indications
that children from C/SEE countries who come together with their parents (typically in the
framework of general labour migration patterns) were involved or exploited in begging,
economic activities or criminal activities. These children can find themselves in socially
vulnerable situations, but not to the extent that they fall victim of exploitation.The large majority of children begging in the streets observed by the research team
were found in Brussels (Belgium), where this phenomenon is much more visible and
frequent than in The Netherlands. Therefore, the majority of children targeted by street
observation were located in Belgium.

One of the reasons that could explain the different prevalence of the phenomenon of
child begging in the two countries targeted relates to a diverse approach undertaken
by authorities among the two countries: in The Netherlands, the response from child
protection and law enforcement authorities to cases of children begging with adults in the
year 2007 was vigorous and apparently had a deterrent effect: by taking the children away
from the streets, adults involving them could not rely on an additional source of income,
and therefore might have moved to other locations outside the country. In Belgium,
begging with children is generally tolerated by authorities, and there is a broader social
acceptance of the phenomenon in general, facts that could explain the visible presence
of children begging in the city of Brussels.

Conversely, both Belgium and The Netherlands have a similar approach to children’s
involvement in criminal activities (although, however, the approach in Belgium was not
subject of in-depth review in the framework of the present study). Similarly, the features
and prevalence of this phenomenon appear to be comparable in Belgium and in The

The research looked in greater depth at the responses to the involvement of children in
begging, economic or criminal activities in The Netherlands. At national level, when it
comes to adopting protection measures for migrant children from C/SEE countries, there
is some degree of uncertainty about (and overlap among) the applicable child protection
measures and competent authorities. Indeed, these children are both EU nationals (fact
which triggers the application of protection measures designed for national children) and
foreigners (their case thereby falling under the provisions of immigration law).
At local level, some cities developed referral systems and standard operating procedures
to deal with cases of children involved in begging, economic and criminal activities,
entailing a cooperation among law enforcement and child protection authorities.
However, several gaps have been identified, which leave many of these children without
adequate protection. These gaps concern primarily: the practical and legal impossibility
to adopt protection measures when the child’s parents do not reside at a permanent
address; difficulties in assessing the relationships between the child and his/her (alleged)
parent(s); gaps in the identification (and treatment) of children who are trafficked for
begging, economic or criminal activities as victims of that crime; children’s disappearance
from the child protection systems (particularly from temporary alternative care); and
difficulties in timely appointing a guardian (and in ensuring a sufficient extension of
guardianship provisions).

The report recommends to adopt measures aimed to enhance the protection of children
involved in begging, economic or criminal activities, to be always guided by rights-based,
child-centred considerations. At local level, these measures mainly revolve around
assessing in greater depth the relationships between the child and his/her parents or
legal guardians, when doubts arise concerning the nature of such relationships. It is
also recommended to systematically request the appointment of a guardian in cases of
children deprived of adequate parental care. Legal and practical obstacles in intervening
to protect children whose parents are not residing at a permanent address should be
overcome, and this circumstance (along with the child’s lack of school attendance) should
be considered as an additional risk factor.

At national level, among relevant recommendations, the need to enhance the protection
of children involved in begging, economic or criminal activities from neglect and abuse,
and particularly from exploitation, in cases where signs of these violations of fundamental
children’s rights are displayed is of utmost importance. In particular, cases of (potential)
child trafficking for exploitation in the above-activities should be promptly detected and
(potential) child victims should be referred to existing protection services and treated
as children and as victims of a serious crime. The capacity of frontline professionals
to identify these cases should be enhanced through regular training, in the framework
of clear procedures embedded in the child protection system and in the (developing)
national referral mechanisms for trafficked persons in The Netherlands.

Children belonging to the most vulnerable groups, particularly those (temporarily)
deprived of adequate parental care, and/or not residing at a permanent address in the
country, should be effectively reached by child protection services.

Clear procedures to identify a durable solution for each child concerned, based on his or
her best interests, should be developed, with strict procedural safeguards and involving
decision-makers with relevant areas of expertise, allowing a proper balancing of the
different relevant factors to be considered. The process should facilitate adequate child
participation and explore on equal grounds the possibilities to return the child to his or
her country of origin, to allow the child to remain and integrate in The Netherlands, or to
reunite the child with his or her family in a third country.

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