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Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 17:39 UK

Gypsy Child Thieves

A Gypsy girl is filmed in Milan as she is forced to beg for 10 hours

Across Europe children are being forced onto the streets to beg and steal. They come from one of the poorest communities in Europe - the Romanian Gypsies.

For centuries Gypsies have lived on the margins of society and faced brutal discrimination. Many have resorted to stealing and begging to survive.

But in the last 20 years, organised crime has taken over. 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 to these children Romanian film-maker Liviu Tipurita embarks on a journey through Europe which takes him inside the closed world of the Gypsy community, and talks to the authorities and institutions meant to be dealing with this disturbing phenomenon.

Gypsy child at a cashpoint in Madrid, Spain
Gypsy Child Thieves
2 September, 2009
1900 BST on BBC Two

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.

This World 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?

This World will be broadcast on Wednesday 2 September at 1900 BST on BBC Two.

Producer/Director: Liviu Tipurita

Executive producer: Lucy Hetherington

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