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Gypsy Child Thieves
Sunday Septemeber 30 at 11 pm ET/PT on CBC News Network
With extraordinary access and dramatic covert footage, the BAFTA nominated documentary Gypsy Child Thieves examines how a growing number of Gypsy children are forced to beg and steal, often for the profit of organized crime. And since 2007, when Romania joined the EU, Gypsy children have been trafficked and exploited on a much larger scale. In an attempt to understand what is happening, Romanian film-maker Liviu Tipurita embarks on a journey through Europe which takes him inside the closed world of the Gypsy community. And he talks to the authorities and institutions meant to be dealing with this disturbing phenomenon. The film also highlights the racism and discrimination suffered by the Romani people and efforts to integrate them into mainstream culture.
Daniela is just thirteen. She has little or no education but her pick-pocketing in Madrid can earn her $500 from a successful robbery. If she gets away she takes the money to her mother to buy food with - and ultimately, perhaps, a house in Romania. If she is caught, the police take the money and place her in a day care centre for children and then she is set free to try again. Because the age of criminal responsibility in Spain is 14 years the police say there is little they can do.
As director Liviu Tipurita found out, Daniela is just one of the thousands of Gypsy children living in the slums outside Madrid. At night she sleeps in a tin shed, by day she heads to the city.
If the problem of Roma children is bad in Madrid, it is virtually out of control in parts of Italy. The government declared a state of emergency after several major crimes were blamed on the Gypsy children. In 2007, after Romania entered the European Union, there was a major upsurge in crime across Italy. In Milan police launched a major investigation involving phone taps and surveillance. What they discovered shocked them. Criminal gangs were using the children to generate massive profits. Some children were earning over $20,000 a month. They weren't getting the money though. The cash was going to benefit crime bosses with headquarters in Romania.
The experience in Milan is not unique. Some children do steal, simply to stay alive. According to the latest intelligence reports a significant amount of crime is the result of child exploitation, organised by professional criminals.
'Breliante', a powerful figure in the Romania Gypsy Underworld
Breliante is a powerful underworld figure from Romania. Normally you might expect he would defend his country and the people that some argue are simply trying to survive. He doesn't.
Breliante says the scale of the crime networks is now so expansive and the number of children so large that it must be stopped. He says:
"Thieving is no longer a national problem. It is happening on an international scale. Our children need to study, because if they carry on like this, if the new generations which grow up now continue in the same way, no one will have us... the Western countries will chase us away."
There's little doubt this is now a major problem across Europe. But will the authorities confront it and create alternatives for the children involved, or will the upsurge in crime simply lead to violence and vilification of the Roma people?
In Spain eight-year-olds robbing grown men at cash machines have become a common sight.
In Madrid, Tipurita films distraction thieves as they try to steal big sums of money from customers who then fight back.
The Spanish police say they make up a third of all the under 17-year-olds they have to deal with in the city.
In Italy, where Gypsies face a shocking tide of racism, a major police investigation found enslaved children locked in a shack like animals.
Two years on, Tipurita's investigation finds out that the elaborate police operation has not saved them from a life of crime.
In an attempt to trace the roots of the problem and the origins of this exploitation within the Gypsy community, Tipurita travels to his native Romania, home to the largest Gypsy population in the world.
He meets up with one of the most powerful leaders of the Gypsy underworld, for whom stealing is a profession that has been passed from generation to generation, and who provides a special insight into the history of Gypsy crime.
Gypsy Child Thieves asks whether these children are the victims of a culture of crime and a wider society that seems to have abandoned them. And raises a question - will anyone save them from the hands of their exploiters? Produced for the BBC.