South Africa police investigate 'baby begging scam'

Image caption,
Begging is common at busy intersections in towns and cities across South Africa

South African police have confirmed to the BBC that they are investigating a possible syndicate that has been hiring out children from creches to beggars.

It follows a general crackdown on the use of children to beg in the capital, Pretoria.

Twenty children were taken into care after an operation on Friday; 13 have since been returned to their families.

Police said they wanted to see if it was linked to a similar case reported in Johannesburg in May.

An investigation by Johannesburg's 702 Talk Radio found that some parents and child-minders were renting out babies to beggars for about 20 rand (about $3; £2) a day.

Begging is common at busy intersections in towns and cities across South Africa.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg says beggars carry babies or use children to garner sympathy and larger donations from motorists.

Police in Pretoria said that seven of the children still in protective custody were babies under the age of one.

The investigation into the begging syndicates would be done with local government officials, police said.

"The practice seems to be on the increase and we are currently looking at why this is the case," Sgt Kgaofelo Malatsi of Pretoria police's social crimes unit told the BBC.

Gauteng province's health and social development department said it was a priority that children went to school and were properly fed.

"We should protect children from exploitation and from adults using children for financial gain by begging at street corners," spokesman Teddy Gomba told the BBC.

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