British police took more than two dozen Roma children as young as 3 into protection Tuesday after raiding houses in London as part of a joint child trafficking investigation with Romanian authorities.
Officers raided 16 properties in east London in an operation "to safeguard potential victims of a Romanian-based Roma gang of child traffickers," police said.
The 28 children would be assessed by child protection experts, police said. Seven adults were arrested, including three on suspicion of assault and child neglect.
The raids were part of Operation Golf, a joint British-Romanian police operation against people traffickers from Romania's Roma, or Gypsy, community.
"These children are exploited by gangs and in some cases their own parents," who paid criminals to bring the youngsters to Britain to earn money, Chief Inspector Colin Carswell of Operation Golf said.
The police force said 26 people were arrested in Romania in April in connection with the investigation and were facing charges of child trafficking, organized crime and money laundering.
The arrests come as European authorities struggle to find solutions to the complex issues facing Europe's poorest minority.
European Union Social Affairs Commissioner Laszlo Andor said Tuesday that it was unacceptable that Roma have "the same hopes and dreams" as other European citizens but not the same opportunities."
He called on member states to address employment, education and health issues for Europe's 10 million to 12 million Roma.
In August, French authorities began expelling hundreds of Roma back to their home countries. The French government said illegal Roma camps on the outskirts of towns were hubs for child exploitation and prostitution, but the expulsions were condemned by human rights groups and European Union officials.
Romania is one of the poorest members of the EU, which it joined in 2007, and up to 2 million Romanians have left their country in recent years in search of better jobs.
Police believe some were lured by false promises of legitimate employment and found themselves in forced labor and forced prostitution.
Associated Press Writer Alina Wolfe Murray in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.