Maria, the “mystery” girl taken away from a Roma couple in Greece was, DNA evidence has shown, the biological daughter of a Roma couple in Bulgaria. Blonde hair and blue eyes was evidence enough for police in Greece, and in two separate cases in Ireland, to take action. But now that it has emerged that Maria is a Roma child, it is painfully predictable that global interest in her fate will fade. Whatever the legal fate of the couple who have been charged with her abduction, Maria, like other Roma children, will have to navigate her way through life suffering illiteracy, unemployment, and segregation in education.
She will have on average 10 years lower life expectancy than the mainstream population due to hunger and malnutrition, squalid housing and substandard healthcare. If European governments or the wider community are really interested in helping Maria and other Roma children like her, they should start with ensuring access to basic documentation and fundamental rights.
I am Roma and have worked on social justice for many years. The incidents in Greece and Ireland should make it uncomfortably clear to the wider public how quickly Europe can still be whipped into a racist hysteria. They also however illustrate an issue that Roma rights groups have campaigned on for years. The lack of official documentation for Roma – highlighted in the absence of appropriate birth certificates and other papers in Maria’s case – is a major reason for Roma exclusion in Europe today.
No country in Europe has accurate statistics for Roma citizens in their official census or other state records. Many Roma do not have birth certificates either; Roma families often forgo registering the birth of a child with local authorities as the cost of obtaining a birth certificate can be prohibitive. Because of this official invisibility, Roma are denied legal protection, public healthcare and the opportunity to enrol their children in school, get a job and register to vote. It also means Roma are at increased risk of human trafficking and miscarriages of justice. If you do not officially exist, it is easy to disappear and be disappeared.
(Read the full article on the Guardian’s website: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/28/maria-roma-invisible)