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One week after she had originally been removed from the Romani camp in which she has been raised for the past four years, DNA tests show that a Bulgarian couple are the birth parents of the girl we only know as ‘Maria’. After what has been deemed an ‘international search’ it turns out that ‘Mystery girl” Maria is in fact exactly who the Greek Romani family said she was.  A particularly insipid CBS article from Monday decried that

 It was the girl’s looks that were the first clue. She has blond hair and blue eyes, which alerted an official that she did not belong. She did not have the typical Gypsy dark hair and dark eyes.

I have already written in detail about the racist elements of meda reporting on the case here but in another not exactly shocking twist to this sordid tale, the birth mother of Maria is also of Romani origin. So it transpires that we now have had a week long media circus about what appears to be an informal adoption arrangement after a poverty-stricken mother could not care for her child. In a country where the laws of adoption are very complex and bureaucratic and legal adoptions are difficult to obtain (especially for the poor) is it that hard to believe that an informal care arrangement was reached in this case? Informal adoption or informal care arrangements are very common worldwide. So common in fact that alternative care for children is defined under a United National General Assembly resolution entitled the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

…children in alternative care are without parental care and live with relatives or family friends without State involvement in selecting or monitoring those arrangements. They, like all children, are entitled to protection and care, but little is known about them.

A UNICEF report on informal care in Africa from 2011 illustrates the prevalence of informal care arrangements in African countries. in particular, in Namibia in 2006–2007, 16.2% of urban households and 41.8% of rural households were providing care to “other” or non-biological children. In Swaziland 40.1% of all rural households were providing care to non-biological children. The Guidelines are intended to enhance the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and relevant provisions of other international instruments regarding the  protection and well-being of children who are deprived of parental care or who are at risk of  being so deprived. Informal care is defined in the Guidelines as

…any private arrangement provided in a family environment, whereby the child is looked after on an ongoing or indefinite basis by relatives or friends  (informal kinship care) or by others in their individual capacity, at the initiative of the child, his/her parents or other person without this arrangement having been ordered by an  administrative or judicial authority or a duly accredited body. (Part III, 29 (b)(i))

The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises that children have the best chance of developing their full potential in a family environment. The primary responsibility for their care rests upon their parents and legal guardians, who are entitled to support from the government in raising their children. When parents are not able or willing to fulfil this responsibility, kinship and community resources may be relied upon to provide care for the children. However, the ultimate responsibility falls on the government to ensure that children are placed in appropriate alternative care.  It appears in this case that the Greek government didn’t care very much about Maria’s well being until they thought that she was a Caucasian child.

Maria is currently being held by Smile of the Child, a Greek Charity that ‘launched the international search’ for Maria’s parents and whose President, Kostas Yannopoulos, has continued to make racist and inflammatory comments throughout the week

It shows that it could be kidnapping and combined effort of these people to buy and sell children, and when you have a good commodity like this one, they try to find a better price.

After it had been conclusively shown that Maria was the child of a Bulgarian Romani couple he suddenly had no comments to make to the media on this issue. This case doesn’t illustrate a kidnapping ring looking for a price for a blonde, blue-eyed girl. While we do not know larges aspects of this case to date, what we do know is that Maria has been in the care of this family since almost her birth, which doesn’t point them them being interested in her as a commodity, in particularly as they have kept family videos of her life growing up, as any family would do.  What this case does illustrate is the plight of Romani in Europe, many of whom spend their lives in extreme poverty due to social exclusion, engineered by the states that they have been born and live in. The European Public Health Alliance states that one of the most universally disadvantaged communities living in Europe are the Roma.

The great majority of the Roma population is found at the very bottom of the socio-economic spectrum. It is generally accepted that the Roma suffer worse health than the other populations in the countries where they live due to their higher exposure to the range of unfavourable factors that influence health. Poverty, inadequate education and lower social integration result in poor life outcomes. Moreover, discrimination and unregulated civil status (including lack of personal documents, birth certificates, insurance) make it particularly difficult for Roma to access social services. Due to the multiplicity of their discrimination and social exclusion, the inequalities faced by the Roma population highlights the cause for combating the social determinants across the board. A July 2011 report by the European Commission on social exclusion of Romani in Greece found that

Today, almost ten years after the launching of the Integrated Programme, the state of affairs as regards the Roma people in Greece, the causes of their social exclusion, the multiple problems which they are faced with, the adherence to discrimination remain, more or less, the same. Their living conditions continue to be inhuman and degrading, while they remain deprived of a wide range of their fundamental rights. Besides, given the serious pressures exercised on Greek society by the fiscal and economic crisis that the country currently undergoes, fears are expressed for an increase in discrimination for Roma people.

The question now remains as to what will happen to Maria? She has been ripped from the only family she knows and is currently staying with a charity that has made a number of unsavoury comments this week in respect of Romani. Has anyone really considered what are her rights and what is best for her at this moment as a Romani child with a distinct cultural background? I am uncertain that a young Romani child in the care of Smile of the Child, who originally refused to even communicate with her though her own language and instead choose to use sign language are the right institution to do that.  A social worker from the organisation, Athanasia Kakarouba, has also stated to the media that Maria is learning Greek and ‘has already spoken her first words, because up until now, she had only learned the Roma language’. This is a clear attempt to force cultural assimilation on Maria after less that a week in their care and raises questions about her care that need immediate answers.

 

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Written by Sonya Donnelly

Sonya Donnelly is currently working with UNHCR in Somalia. She has written extensively on human rights issues and co-wrote a legal text for first year barristers, The Devil’s Handbook. All posts are written in Sonya’s personal capacity.