Roma couple charged with abduction in case of girl called Maria

Greek authorities are trying to identify a child seized from a Roma camp and have appealed to the world for help. Police believe the child, who is being identified simply as Maria, may have been a victim of kidnapping or trafficking, but it is also possible that the Roma couple with whom she was living in central Greece, near Farsala, was caring for her out of charity. She is around 5 or 6 years old, according to the president of Smile of the Child, the organization that is now taking care of her.

Kathimerini reports that the child has asked not to see any of her Roma family, and that she has told a psychologist that she is happy in her new environment. The organization has received thousands of calls and messages, but Maria’s parents still have not been identified.

Authorities raided the camp last week looking for contraband and fugitives, but found Maria instead. The blond, blue-eyed child’s appearance aroused the suspicions of a prosecutor who was accompanying the officers, and DNA tests later confirmed that the couple who were taking care of her were not her parents.

The two adults have been charged with child abduction. Their lawyer has said they were asked to care for Maria by her parents because they could not provide for her.

The Associated Press notes that after centuries as Europe’s outcasts, the Roma are still surviving on the margins of society:

Roma, a poor people in a country devastated by an economic crisis, try to make a living on the outskirts of Farsala by selling fruits, carpets, blankets, baskets and shoes. They are already stereotyped by some in Greece and elsewhere in Europe as social outcasts, thieves and beggars — and now fear they will be stigmatized as child traffickers as well.

The case “doesn’t reflect on all of us,” Babis Dimitriou, president of the local Roma community, told the AP on Sunday.

Dimitriou said the female suspect claimed the child’s biological mother was a Bulgarian woman.

“I have seen that woman in our settlement, but she disappeared a few days ago,” he said.

Greece’s Roma community has for centuries been exposed to poverty and discrimination. According to the London-based Minority Rights Group, some 80 percent of Greece’s 300,000 Roma are illiterate.

Associated Press

Police have also accused the couple of welfare fraud.

_

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Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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