Hundreds of Eastern European children are living what the Dutch press calls a modern Oliver Twist story, some held against their will, others in thrall to their handlers as they are forced to beg and steal their way around Western European cities.
The thieves in question, some as young as 8 years old, are picking pockets and committing other petty crimes in the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Spain, according to the recently released findings of an international investigation called Operation 13Oceans (a randomly generated name) that focused on those countries.
Several kids appeared on the radar of the Dutch police when they saw the same faces over and over again, with different names each time. They had picked them up, booked them, and let them out on the streets again, in a never ending cycle. Eventually, as the cops ran their faces through the databases of Europol and other international organizations, a list of around 300 kids emerged.
The children are invisible victims because it is hard for society to see the sinister hand of organized human trafficking that lies behind the petty thievery that afflicts so many European cities, helping to stoke the anger against “migrants,” many of whom are Roma, but many of whom are not.
“What you see is often not what it appears,” says Warner Ten Kate, a Dutch public prosecutor who specializes in human trafficking. When you see a mother begging with a child, for instance, you don’t necessarily think about the infant being forced to serve as a prop for a woman who is not its mother at all.
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