Hundreds of Roma children are being used by family members as pickpockets, burglars or even sex slaves in the Netherlands, various experts and aid workers said to Nieuwsuur. The police responded that 400 detectives work on hundreds of human trafficking cases per year, including the exploitation of Roma children. Police officers will get extra training this year on recognizing the signs of human trafficking.
The aid workers and experts told Nieuwsuur that the Dutch government and authorities do not provide adequate protection for these Roma children. If such a child is arrested by the police, he or she is often returned to a family member which only exploits the child again. An internal National Police and Public Prosecution report, in the hands of Nieuwsuur, confirms this image. "There is insufficient knowledge and awareness among the police and judiciary that crimes committed by minors can involve human trafficking", that report reads, according to the broadcaster.
"What the police are actually doing now, is possibly returning the child to the exploiter. Then the child remains in the same situation and will be arrested again a week later", Iara de Witte of Defense for Children said to Nieuwsuur. According to her, the police consider these children more a perpetrator than a victim. She also regrets that the police don't have enough capacity to track down the exploiters.
According to De Witte, Roma children often live in awful conditions. "They don't go to school, do not have access to the doctor and there is not always enough to eat. Parents also often don't set a good example." Roma children are often encouraged to marry young. Girls sometimes have their first child at age 14. Young marriages often involve a dowry, De Witte added. "Some girls have to repay that. Their value in the marriage market is also determined by their capacity as pickpockets."
Cornel Vader, director of the Salvation Army, called the situation an abuse. His organization recently took in 40 Roma children through a child protection measure, but there are still "hundreds of children living in a situation of exploitation", he said. He thinks that there is not enough attention and expertise about the problem surrounding Roma children. "While that is very important and sensible. For the children, for the families, but also for society that suffers from this."
The extent of exploitation of Roma children in the Netherlands has never been properly investigated, so the exact number of children being exploited is unclear. Nieuwsuur sources at the investigative services and municipalities also speak of hundreds of victims. So do aid workers. The Public Prosecution Service speaks of dozens.
What is clear is that the number of children with Eastern European nationality involved in crimes like shoplifting, pickpocketing, chat-scams, and burglaries, is on the rise. In 2014 a total of 168 of these children were caught in the Netherlands, 201 in 2015, and 252 in 2016, according to figures from the Expertise Center on Human Trafficking. Whether any of these were Roma children is unclear, because the police are not allowed to register ethnicity.
In response to the Nieuwsuur report, the police released a statement saying that they have 11 teams working only on human trafficking. These teams handle hundreds of often complicated investigations per year. These investigations are made even more complex by their international character. "Perpetrators and victims often travel through European countries with fake names, which makes them difficult to trace. This certainly applies to trafficking in which Roma children are involved. That often makes it difficult to start a criminal investigation", the police said.
The police consider it very important that victims are removed from exploitive situations as quickly as possible, even if a criminal investigation can't be launched. More attention is paid at the police to raise awareness about such situations, and this year police officers will get extra training on recognizing signs of human trafficking. The police are also developing a fixed method for recognizing victims as quickly as possible.
"Police capacity is scarce", the police added. "Choices must always be made about which investigations to do. Seriousness, nature, scope and investigation clues are then of importance. Because there are often poignant situations, these are always difficult considerations. This is not only the case when it concerns underage Roma children."