05/02/2007

Call for action to protect street children

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, has today called for action to protect children who are being used to beg for money on the streets of Belfast.

Ms Lewsley said she was shocked by continuing reports of children begging at the behest of what appears to be organised gangs.

The Commissioner said: "I am shocked that there are still children begging on the streets, apparently forced to do so by organised gangs. Reports over the past number of days are extremely disturbing.

"There is now an urgent need for agencies to act together to protect these children, whether it be health and social services, police or housing executive.

"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."

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

"It is obvious that these children need protected from what appears to be a criminal gang. The community can help by making sure they report what they see as soon as possible."

The Commissioner said that the public can also contact her office on 028 9031 1616.

(EF)

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