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Crisis and begging children in Greece

21 November 2014 / 20:11:41  GRReporter
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Children selling flowers and handkerchiefs to customers at restaurants, children playing the accordion in the subway, children with brushes at the traffic lights, begging women with babies in their arms - the picture can be seen everywhere in the centre of Athens, where the number of children, begging or "working" in various ways, is not decreasing despite the crisis.

The majority of the children are Roma from Greece's neighbouring countries as well as of Greek origin. According to non-governmental organization "Arsis – Association for the Social Support of Youth" from Thessaloniki, the number of children who are in the street for one reason or another has dramatically increased after the accession of Bulgaria and Greece to the European Union. "By 2007, the majority of the children in the street were of Albanian origin. Then numerous groups from these countries joined them as well. There have always been children of Greek origin but they are always the smallest group whereas the cases of Roma children from mixed marriages have recently prevailed," "Arsis" representative Valbona Chistouna told GRReporter.

"Our extensive experience has taught us that some of the children know in advance that they will come here to earn money. Other children do not know and become aware of it when they arrive in Greece. The parents and those who accompany them, however, come with the full knowledge that the children will come to earn by working in the street. Very often, they are with the children in the street, but for us it is exploitation of a minor. That is, when a mother, father, another woman or whoever is with the child in the street, begging, collecting scrap metal from waste containers, selling candles in front of churches, etc., all of this is child exploitation for us," she added.

These children arrive in Greece without any problems because they are EU citizens. They cross the border accompanied by their parents, relatives or even family friends who have the necessary legal document stating that they are the child’s guardians during his or her stay in Greece.

234 children were found in the streets of Thessaloniki from January to September 2014, 96 of them being of Albanian origin, 81 Bulgarian, 6 Romanian and 51 Greek. According to Valbona Chistouna the number of children from Romania in the city has decreased because they have been directed to richer "markets" such as Athens and other European cities.

"We have a team of 2-3 people who are every day in the streets of Thessaloniki in order to establish contact with the children or the adults who are with them, trying to gain their trust and then together to draw up a plan to protect the children.

The organization endeavours to help everyone, but it is not always possible, because children often move to different places, from one address to another, from Greece to the country of origin or other European countries. Unfortunately, the cases in which we cannot find the child or the whole family for a second time are not a few."

Often the parents or the people close to the children do not accept the intervention of the organization. "Then we contact the juvenile prosecutor who issues an order for the securing of immediate protection of the children. These cases require cooperation from the authorities in the country of origin of the child, which must investigate their family environment in order to ensure their protection if the child is repatriated there. "

"One of the most serious and major causes of child exploitation is poverty. Therefore, we try to inform the parents who are often unaware that their child should not work in the street but go to school and be in a safe environment in general. Often they do not know this because they are not literate or because they themselves were subject to the same thing as children. When we fail to convince the parents that they are the people who need to protect their children and not to subject them to exploitation, we look for other ways to help them," said Chistouna.

According to "Arsis" what should be done to more effectively protect the children exploited in this way is to strengthen the institutions that shelter them. "For me the strengthening of cooperation between countries is the most important. If there is no way for such cooperation at any time, and I really mean at any time, we will not be able to minimize and eliminate the phenomenon, which is our ultimate goal."


Tags: SocietyBegging childrenExploitationNon-governmental organizationThessalonikiSupport for children
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