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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 14:08 GMT
Call made over begging children
Man begging
Police said there had been an increase in begging in Belfast
Action must be taken to protect children who are being used to beg for money in Belfast, the children's commissioner has said.

Patricia Lewsley said she had been "shocked" by continuing reports of children begging at the behest of what appears to be organised gangs.

"Reports over the past number of days are extremely disturbing," she said

She said there was "an urgent need for agencies to act together to protect these children".

"When there are reports of babies being held by begging adults and children working selling flowers late at night it is a matter of extreme urgency that action is taken," she said.

Ms Lewsley urged anyone seeing a child being used to beg to contact either social services or the PSNI immediately.

In a statement the police said that using, procuring or encouraging a child to beg was an offence and would urge members of the public to report any incidents of concern.

The PSNI statement added that illegal begging was becoming an increasing problem in the city centre and officers were trying to deal with it.

"As police have received reports of people of Easten European origin involved in begging they have obtained the services of interpreters to assist them deal with the problem," the statement said.

"Firstly by education - as there are cases when prosecution does not solve the problem. Then secondly by enforcement."

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