Conflict & Justice

An old tale of snatching children is haunting the Roma people in Europe

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Credit: Greek Police/Handout/Reuters

A 40-year-old Roma woman and a 39-year-old Roma man (R) with a girl found living with them in central Greece are in this photo, distributed by the Greek police.

For the past week, Maria's picture has been all over the front pages of Europe. She's the pale, blonde-haired, blue-eyed child who was found living with a darker-skinned Roma couple in Greece.

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A DNA test revealed that she is unrelated to the couple, and police are investigating whether Maria is a victim of child trafficking.

Then, there's a similar case also involving a blonde child in Ireland living in a Roma family. Except there, a DNA test has reportedly shown that the girl is part of the family.

There's nothing new about allegations of child trafficking by the Roma. Yet the spotlight on their communities is especially blinding right now, according to Jake Bowers.

Bowers is a Roma journalist based in London and an advocate on behalf of his community.

"The way the media has been reporting, it feeds straight upon a very old stereotype that Romany people are prone to child snatching."

This old European myth is even built into nursery rhymes, says Bowers, in lines like "My mother said I never should play with the Gypsies in the wood."

Now the Roma are the ones who are frightened. Bowers says that people in his community have come to him fearful that their children might be taken away just for looking different. Bowers himself has light hair and was blonde as a child. 

"I'm fair skinned, I have blue eyes, as do many Romany people across Europe, even in countries like Romania," he says. "On that basis alone, to judge Gypsy people as being guilty before proven innocent... the community is scared that these horrible parts of our history are about to replay themselves."

The background noise to all of these stories, says Bowers, is the undeniable cultural clash between nomadic Roma people and settled Europeans.

Many Roma are among the poorest Europeans, and many are involved in begging in European cities.

"Just because a community, because of its poverty, may indulge in begging, does not therefore mean that it's involved in widespread child trafficking or snatching," says Bowers.

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