Action needed to tackle rise in begging among ‘Roma’ children across Europe

Image: Council of Europe

European countries must work harder to tackle the root cause of begging among ‘Roma’ traveller children, which is once again on the rise.

The Council of Europe, which works to protect human rights, says begging among this vulnerable group had been decreasing, but of late has become more visible, along with a rise in anti-Roma and anti-traveller ‘discourse and attitudes’.

A report by the CoE’s Committee of Experts on Roma and Traveller Issues says that 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.

While statistics are hard to establish, it adds, the report highlights how 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 situation economic of Roma communities across the continent has also been deeply affected, not surprisingly, by the pandemic.

‘Roma children may be pushed to beg by family members’

One attempt to control begging has been to pass new municipal by-laws that criminalise the practice with the threat of penalties, which have a ‘disproportionate negative impact,’ especially on Roma women and children.

Begging is not illegal in nine CoE member states, while a further 29 consider begging in one form or another a criminal offence. Given such disparities, the report recommends ‘harmonising” legislation to reflect existing European human rights standards, and to better address poverty.

  • 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.

‘Harmonising legislation’

“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,” says the report.

“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,” it adds.

Click here for more Council of Europe resources on Roma children.

Author: Simon Weedy

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