The case of a young girl named Maria living in a Roma community in Greece has caused a disturbing outcry.
She was noticed by the authorities because “she looked unusual... lack of resemblance between the blonde-haired, green-eyed, pale-skinned little girl and her parents”.
The subsequent outcry seems to centre on the idea that it is awful that a “blonde-haired, green-eyed, pale-skinned” girl who appears to be of northern or eastern European origin is begging on the streets as part of the Roma community. The concern for her welfare seems to be limited to her appearance (and therefore ethnicity).
This brought to mind similarities with the case of a Mexican girl in America last year. The blonde, pale skinned child had been photographed begging with her “brown mother” and the photographer labelled this as unusual and suspicious.
This resulted in the mother being detained and the child being removed from her until it was proven they were in fact related. The case sparked questions about the way race is viewed in America.
The case in Greece is different in some ways. The parents that Maria was living with have been unable to provide correct documentation for the girl. Apparently documentation they have provided has been flawed, and their story has changed.
That is however not unusual for Roma communities, who are often without correct papers in various countries, and fear reprisals.
There are fears that this girl may have been trafficked or abducted. I do not wish to delegitimise these fears, and they may well prove to be true. However the original identification of this girl, the media response, and the treatment of the Roma community she was living in, smack of racism.
As with the case of the Mexican girl begging, it was only the fact that Maria is pale-skinned and appears to look like a North or Eastern European that roused suspicion.
No similar concerns are heard about the fate or poverty that falls upon Roma children from the same community. Given that trafficking does happen and is a threat to children, it is odd that we should apparently only be concerned that this should happen to a pale-skinned child.
The vast majority of women who are trafficked in the world are not white. In fact, within Europe, Roma communities are disproportionately affected by trafficking. Nothing has been reported about the relationship between this child and the adults she was living with, good or bad.
The case will give the green light to police forces in Europe to raid Roma communities, looking for “suspiciously pale-skinned children”. Indeed as we go to press there are reports of police in Dublin having taken into care a child living with a Roma family.