3,000 kids begging in Dublin; Spotlight on the waif children.
Child welfare experts have recorded almost 3,000 incidences of youngsters begging for change on the streets of Dublin alone - and accused the government of treating the nation's cattle better than its children
There are around 150 child beggars - a mix of desperate homeless youngsters trying to survive as well as those sent out on to the streets by greedy, uncaring parents.
The annual report on child street beggars from ISPCC offshoot Leanbh is the first indication of the extent of the problem.
Leanbh also helped rescue almost a quarter of the city's street urchins in its first year of operation.
It is now calling on Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy to provide money to tackle the crisis in his December budget.
"The report confirms a shockingly high incidence of child begging on the streets of Dublin," ISPCC spokesman Cian O'Tighearnaigh said. "Nearly a third of the sightings involved children of less than 10 years of age.
"We are calling on the Eastern Health Board to regard begging as a serious child protection concern."
Leanbh volunteers patrolled the streets of Dublin 24 hours a day in a bid to rescue at-risk youngsters.
They succeeded in intervening in more than nine out of 10 cases.
Social workers fear that the beggars run the risk of being targeted by drug dealers, pimps and paedophiles.
Leanbh counselled 27 familes in the last 12 months, but it slammed the state's response to the 2,872 cases it referred to the health board.
"We call on the Eastern Health Board to prioritise child begging by identifying the abandonment and exploitation of children as a serious child protection issue," said Mr O'Tighearnaigh.
"It is clear the elimination of child begging is possible before the end of the century, but much has to be done."