Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves / by Deborah Clague

Last night I watched a documentary called 'Gypsy Child Thieves' on CBC's The Passionate Eye. It provided a raw glimpse into the lives of gypsy children manipulated into petty crime in Europe while examining the larger scale organized criminal influence that fuels it. Parts of the exposé reminded me of odd situations I've found myself in while traveling, including having a 3-year-old boy try to pickpocket me in Chengdu, China. My initial reaction, upon feeling someone slide their hand into the back pocket on my jeans, was anger; I immediately turned around to confront the perpetrator. My next reaction was shock that the thief appeared to be barely out of diapers. Walking away somewhat saddened, somewhat wiser, it was my first introduction to the seedy underworld of child exploitation, the scale of which most Westerners will never comprehend.

The first (and only) time I encountered an actual gypsy was in London, England. A full day of sightseeing left me hungry and weak. With visions of beer-battered pub haddock dancing around in my head, it was unfortunate that the first place I encountered selling anything edible (barely) was a hot dog stand. Pork, ick. But I couldn't wait; my stomach needed to be silenced. Under Big Ben's shadow, I waited in line while studying the visual differences between a fifty pence and 10 pence coin. A figure saddled up to my right. Cloaked in traditional Eastern Bloc garb, it was a teenage girl, approximately 17-years-old, who's heavy, aged gaze belied an otherwise youthful appearance. "Please" she begged. Her hands extended within mere centimeters of my face. "Pleeeeeeeaaaaaasssssseeee". I felt horrible, but I couldn't. I wouldn't. The exchange went on for the next several minutes, another gypsy tugging at my purse on the left. The harassment escalated. Was a hot dog really worth it? Upon retrospect, no. Good lord, no! Sternly/loudly telling them likewise, the gypsy on the right took her hands away and stood stoicly, her eyes penetrating my soul. Before disappearing into the night, she muttered something in a language I didn't recognize. A curse perhaps? An ancient spell of damnation? That hot dog did end up giving me heartburn.

To watch 'Gypsy Child Thieves', click here and learn that the money you think is aiding children may be funding the most garishly ostentatious architecture on earth.