On the Brussels Metro, two women returning from a shopping excursion are being entertained by the antics of a grubby boy. He could not be older than eight or nine. Charming them with a cheeky grin, he pesters them for money until one woman finally hands him a few Euros. After the women leave, the boy, no longer smiling, trots to the other end of the platform and drops the coins into the open palm of a waiting man. Such scenes are not unusual in Brussels. The children are easy to recognize: playing an accordion on a train, squatting by a battered cup on Rue Neuve, or trailing an adult companion hovering by the bank machine while passersby stop to withdraw cash.
Dig a little deeper, and the stories get worse. Sleeping pills are being used to sedate infants held by "mothers" who beg in stairwells and on station platforms. Roma girls living on the streets are giving birth to babies who "die" with startling frequency (the babies are, in fact, sold into the illegal adoption market or used as accessories to begging).
The capital of Europe is now also its unofficial capital of child trafficking. As France tightens its borders to clamp down on illegal migrants, Belgium is fast becoming the destination of choice for trafficked minors from Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East...
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