28 August 2007

Child pickpockets in Venice

One of the big issues in Venice in the last two months has been the appearance of Romanian child pickpockets – the sort you'll have seen in Rome and other Italian cities if you have travelled around Italy in recent years. Under 14 years of age, these children cannot be held accountable for their crimes by local law. They're picked up by police, taken to child refuges, then they abscond in the morning. Some of the children are stopped by carabinieri and fed-up local vigilantes and shopkeepers on a daily basis, but the rewards are great and they keep on robbing.

Tourists should always be careful in crowded places and should keep bags firmly fastened and under their control at all times. Be streetwise – Venice is a very safe town but pickpocketing is one thing you should look out for. Favourite places for the robbers include busy lanes and bridges, the bus terminus at Piazzale Roma, the St. Mark's area and rush-hour waterbuses. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security if the only people near you are ten-year-olds or heavily-pregnant girls; these are classic examples of the pickpockets sent out by Fagin-like operators. In the last week the newspaper has reported children as young as 5 being employed in crime. Be very aware of people falling in behind you in a queue, especially if you are being jostled. Shout loudly and attract attention if someone attempts to rob you.

Since writing this it nearly happened to me! On Sunday in Dorsoduro I was crossing a bridge when I became aware of a young girl moving in close behind me, on the side where I carried my shoulder bag. Although I didn't see her or her companion, a slightly older boy, actually rob anyone, it was clear that this was their game. They would choose a position on a bridge, watch as tourists walked by, then the girl would begin to follow the tourists down alleys as the boy kept a look out. When they realised I was watching them they moved off. I would guess that she was about 11 years old, and the boy was perhaps 13. Stay alert!

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