Friday, January 25, 2008

A Gang Of Little Thieves Is Rescued!

Remember in the story of Oliver Twist, the crooked man called Fagin who pretended to befriend homeless boys and then taught them to steal for him? Well, a group of modern-day Fagins has just been busted in London, and eleven children have been taken into foster care as a temporary solution until they can be reunited with their families.
This story is a little different from the one in Oliver Twist, though, because all of the children were from Romania, and were given to the adults by their parents in exchange for a promise of future payments. The children mostly belonged to poor Romanian families, and as in many child trafficking situations, the adults who took the children promised the parents that this was the best thing they could do for their families. The children were then brought to London and forced to be pickpockets. The money they stole was wired back to Romania or sent there in suitcases, and was used to make the gang members very wealthy.
The operation has apparently been going on for years, not just with this particular gang but with many different gangs. It has become a popular way for Romanian criminals to make money. Children under the age of ten are especially useful to the gangs of adults benefiting from this, because in London children under ten cannot be held legally responsible for their actions. If a child is caught for pickpocketing and turned over to the police, one of the gang members comes and picks her up, claiming to be her parent, and then turns her out on the streets in a different area to keep up the work of pickpocketing.
Children older then ten are also instructed to claim that they were under the age of ten, and given fake names to tell the police.
The children are typically instructed to look for expensive things like cell phones and credit cards. They are taught various ways to steal. For instance, "Hugger muggers" put on Shirley-Temple-like shows on the streets, singing and dancing, and then hugging members of the audience. When they hug a person, they also manage to root through the person's coat pockets or purse, to steal valuables. Similarly, groups of children go into shops, and while a few of them distract shopkeepers by singing and dancing, others steal things off the shelves. Other times, children go into restaurants and steal items off of tables and chairs. Even babies can be used to distract potential victims while older children or adults do the stealing!
For now, ten children are safe. Yesterday morning police raided several houses in which they believed Romanian children were being held.
The problem now is how to handle the children. They are being cared for in foster care, but hopefully will be reunited with their families in Romania.

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