The case of ‘Maria’, the blonde haired, green eyed child ‘rescued’ from a Roma encampment in Greece tells us a lot more about ourselves and our slavish interaction with news media than it does about Roma culture or child abduction or trafficking.Image

I wrote last week on my Facebook page that it was an obscenity that while a 16 year old girl had been missing in north Dublin for 48 hours the front pages of all of our newspapers were obsessed with the story of Madeline McCann, a child who in all likelihood died 6 years ago.  There must have been literally hundreds of parents of missing children in the UK who were looking on in amazement these last two weeks as vast resources were poured into the search for ‘Maddie’.

And we lap it up.  Her cute 4 year old face on the front page sells newspapers.  The missing 16 year old gets a few lines on page 6, 7 or 8 and consequently the chances of finding her quickly are greatly reduced.

But what about our little blonde angel in Greece?

It seems that Greek police found her by accident when she understandably stuck out like a sore thumb in the middle of dark haired, brown skinned Roma camp.  Having decided fairly quickly that this child did not belong to the couple who claimed to be her parents the Greek police rescued her and put her in the care of a children’s charity.  As details filtered out it emerged that this Roma couple had fourteen children and that their birth certificates showed that three of them had been born within six months of each other!  So, logic tells us that the Roma couple in question has got at least three children that could not possibly be their own, the blonde, green eyed Maria and at least two other Roma children.  So why, then, are our newspapers and news bulletins crammed with the story of Maria with no mention whatsoever of at least two other children who seem to be in the same predicament as Maria.  Two dark haired, brown skinned kids who could not possibly belong to this Roma couple were left in their care while beautiful, angelic Maria, who obviously is one of ‘us’ as opposed to one of ‘them’ is ‘rescued’ and a pan European search ensues to ensure she is reunited with her family, who may or may not be Scandinavian, German or eastern European but definitely not Roma.

If the Sun or the Mirror or Star or whoever puts a picture of two scruffy, brown Roma kids on their front page we will pass it by and reach for the paper with Maria on the front page.  If some unknown, missing 16 year old from north Dublin appears on a front page that paper is going to be slaughtered by the others pushing the desperate search for Missing Maddie.  The main evening news bulletin a nine o’clock this evening on RTE1 led with the story the Roma couple being charged with child abduction

It is as yet far from established that the natural parents of Maria did not give her up willingly.  If child abduction is indeed proven and a conviction secured this is still not, even on the slowest of slow news days, appropriately the top story for our national broadcaster.  It is tabloid fodder, as is the futile search for Madeline McCann, but it pushes all the right buttons with the great unwashed. In this case it is the Roma coming here to steal our stuff and our kids, it is our innate racism, our knee jerk reaction when the pale, blonde Maria is juxtaposed with the dark, brooding Roma.

If Maria’s parents are found and it transpires that they did give her up willingly for an irregular, unofficial adoption, or even sold her, what then?  Do the Greek authorities take Maria away from the only parents she has known and re-home her with strangers?  Do they give her back to the Roma couple?  Does she go, as she probably would in Ireland, into an uncertain future in care with no guarantee of adoption or fostering?  I don’t know the answer but I do know you won’t find it in tomorrow’s front pages.  What you will find is the usual diet of overt racism and xenophobia masquerading as concern.

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