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German children left “at risk” through unregulated system

By DAISY SAMPSON [email protected]

Cases of German children being sent to the Algarve to live in homes in the region have been criticised by Portuguese authorities, warning that the situation has left the children involved “at risk of being abused”.

The news that children from Germany have been sent to Portugal for the past 15 years, with the majority ending up in homes in the Algarve, came after a German television channel  ZDF reported the cases, claiming that the host families were taking in children purely for profit.

It is reported that the children, who were all classed as delinquents, were sent abroad to try and rehabilitate them to be able to return to Germany.

However, the entire project has been deemed illegal by Portuguese officials, who had been unaware of the situation.

“In the 21st Century, there cannot still be situations in Europe when children still being taken from their families and sent to other countries, with no-one to monitor the situation,” said Dulce Rocha, the president of the Institute of Child Support (IAC) in Lisbon.

She told Lusa news agency: “The fact that minors are not monitored regularly is repugnant because it puts children at risk of being abused.”

She added: “Today, children are not permitted to be left in institutions or with host families without regular monitoring and supervision. This is a requirement of international law and is part of children’s human rights.”

According to Edmundo Martinho from the Portuguese Social Service, the entity has identified around 100 children in Portugal over the past six months who are part of the scheme.

He told Correio da Manhã newspaper that there are still 70 German children in Portugal but that none are considered to be “at risk”.

“To us, the most important goal is to ensure the welfare of these children while they are in Portugal. It is absolutely forbidden for Portuguese or German families to receive children without the knowledge of the Portuguese authorities and the procedure must be coordinated by us,” he said.

The Algarve Resident spoke to a German resident from the Portimão area who had previously taken part in the scheme to house German children in the Algarve around 10 years ago.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “I looked after two children, a boy who came to me at the age of 13 and then a girl who arrived in the Algarve at the age of 16. Both were sent to me via an association I was working for in the Algarve.

“In my experience, both the children were very difficult to begin with but they were monitored regularly with visits from the association on a monthly basis, while they also attended private school lessons in Portimão.”

At no time did the woman and her husband believe that taking in the children was in any way illegal or unregulated because of the contact and support they had while looking after the children.

“I knew of another woman in Portimão who was also looking after a boy but we could not socialise as it was detrimental to the progression of the children for them to get together. I did hear of other homes in the Algarve where the conditions were not so good for the children, especially in the Aljezur area, but I can only speak for my own experience, which ended up being very positive.”

The boy the woman cared for ended up returning to Germany after a year-and-a-half after he refused schooling. However, the girl stayed in the Algarve until she was 19 and has since returned to Germany where she has married and had two children of her own.

“It seemed to me to be a great idea to take these children away from the environment where they had been in trouble and the children liked being here, especially the girl who became fluent in Portuguese and even got herself a Portuguese boyfriend, who was training to be a policeman at the time.”

She added: “I finished taking in children after the girl left as I wanted to end with a positive experience.”

Luis Villas Boas, the director of the Refúgio Aboim Ascensão children’s home in Faro and a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, told the Algarve Resident: “There have been rumours about these children around the Algarve for more than a decade. I am not aware of all the facts but I find the entire situation ugly, disgusting and utterly illegal.

“Portugal has its own rules for the care of children and these must be followed in accordance with UN children’s rights laws.”

He added: “No child should ever be exported illegally, especially children such as these with many problems. I have heard that two of the children have committed suicide in the past, another set fire to the Moto Club in Lagos while others have slit their wrists.

“This programme is not humane, while people illegally profiting from looking after children in unsupervised condition is mafia like. A new solution needs to be found.”

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]