Child beggars as young as four are raking in up to £100,000 a year each for foreign crime gangs, an investigation has found.

The BBC’s Panorama programme spent a year filming children begging in London to expose the criminal operation.

Kids are trafficked to the UK and forced to plead for cash in the streets. The money is then sent back to Romania where criminals live lavish lifestyles with the takings, it was claimed.

Those behind the scheme apparently blame Britain for encouraging it with their generous handouts.

Panorama reporter John Sweeney said that he watched a girl of four beg on major London thoroughfares, including Edgware Road, for months. All of the money she collected was given to her mother, who had been trafficked to the UK as a child.

The investigation traced a lot of the money from Britain to Tanderei in Romania, where last year 26 alleged child traffickers were arrested by police.

It also reported that when beggars had children of their own, they would put them to work too, creating a never-ending cycle.

Chief Inspector Colin Carswell, part of a police operation to tackle the criminals behind the scheme, said: “The gang place the earning potential of a single child in London at not far off £100,000 a year – begging and stealing and being used for benefit fraud.”