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Circus Orphanage

German social workers are under fire after it was discovered that two years ago they had put a nine-year-old boy into a travelling circus.

And it has now been revealed that other children have also been placed in other circuses as well as riding schools, farms and even in one case a travelling stunt show.

The boy, identified in German media only by his first name Jeremie, is now aged 11 and the scandal came to light when he was reported as missing by Circus Monaco staff.

In addition, allegations have now emerged in German media that the boy, who was from a gypsy family, had been used as slave labour by circus management and also been forced to beg.

The boy has now been missing for six days after he was last seen climbing into a white Mercedes transporter van at Luebtheen in Germany. The van was then discovered 70 miles away in Hamburg.

The boys carer at the circus Carmen Sperlich, 45, who has seven children of her own, denied the allegations that the boy had been forced to beg - and had been used as slave labour. She said that he had liked to dress up as a clown and had hopes of becoming a fire breather - but was too young to get the training at the moment.

When shown a video of him breathing fire she said: "He did not learn that here."

She added: "He was happy here. He used to call me mum."

As well as the reports that the boy had been used for begging in German media it was also claimed that he had been put in the circus because he came from a gypsy family.

Rudko Kawczynski, who is chairman of the Roma and Sinti Union Hamburg, said he was furious about the move, saying: "We really hope that his background was not the reason he ended up in the circus, while he was there it really ground him down, it was verging on torture."

The allegations the boy was placed with the circus because of his background were rejected by social worker spokesman Andy Grote, 44, who said: "The family background of the boy did not play any role in the choice of where he was placed. We have carers on farms, riding schools and indeed in other circuses as well as a travelling stunt show. Generally the project works well - the children get lessons by computer."

Jeremie grew up with his parents Rosita and Bruno because of his mother and his father's drugs problem. In the meantime both are now clean - and want their son back.

The grandfather told local media: "Jeremie often called me in tears because of the conditions he was experiencing there. He was having to sleep in an unheated caravan. It was inhuman."

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