Greek Roma Case Exposes Loophole in Municipal Registries
by Kevin Hope in Athens
The case of Maria, a blonde, green-eyed child found living with a Roma family in central Greece has exposed yet another of the country's structural woes: gaps in local administration that have been exploited by child-traffickers and desperate couples seeking babies to adopt.
Giorgos Kaminis, the mayor of Athens, this week suspended four senior staff members at the municipal registry after discovering that Maria's birth was fraudulently recorded at the request of Eleftheria Dimopoulou, her supposed mother.
Mr Kaminis called in state auditors to examine the registry’s books after noting a sharp rise in the number of births recorded without supporting documents, from 50 in 2011 to more than 400 this year. A supreme court prosecutor on Tuesday ordered a nationwide check of municipal registries to determine the extent of the problem.
Under a 1976 law births can be officially recorded on the basis of statements by the mother and two witnesses, without mentioning the father’s name or producing any documents.
Because women from the Roma community rarely give birth in maternity clinics, their statements are usually accepted by local authorities without any dispute.
This legislative loophole has been used by child traffickers to arrange illegal adoptions by bringing pregnant Bulgarian women to give birth at private clinics in Greece, said an Athens gynaecologist who declined to be identified.
“The Greek birth-rate is very low and there aren’t many babies offered for adoption, so the process is long drawn-out . . . Couples seeking a child can become desperate and resort to buying a baby,” she said.
“It isn’t very difficult to contact a go-between in the medical world to make the arrangements . . . Bulgaria is nearby, there are many Bulgarian doctors working in Greece and until it joined the EU (in 2007) selling a child was not a criminal act.”
A child-trafficking ring sells a baby boy for between €20,000 and €25,000 and a girl for €12,000 to €15,000. The mother would receive around €2,000, the gynaecologist said.
Greek Roma come under suspicion of child-trafficking because of the social exclusion they suffer and because they have regular contacts with Roma communities in Albania and Bulgaria, said Argyro Stefanopoulou, a social worker.
“They have the opportunity to get involved in this business and their participation is documented,” she said. “But in the case of Maria, why is she still living with the family at the age of six?”
Opinions differ over whether Maria is a victim of trafficking or is part of a benefits scam run by Ms Dimopoulou and her partner, Christos Salis. The couple are in jail awaiting trial on charges of kidnapping and benefits fraud.
Marietta Palavra, Mr Salis’s lawyer, said: “They adopted Maria when she was a baby at the request of her mother, a Bulgarian Roma working in Greece, and insist that no money changed hands.”
On paper Maria has as many as 13 siblings whose births were registered at three different municipalities, according to a police spokesman. But only four other children were found in a police raid last week of the couple's home during a search of the Roma settlement outside the town of Farsala for drugs and illegal weapons.
The main source of income for Ms Dimopoulou's family appeared to be the €2,700 a month they received in state allowances for children, distributed through local municipalities. They collected the money in Athens, the central city of Larissa and in Tripoli in southern Greece, a police spokesman in Larissa said.
"One problem of local administration is that an EU-financed computer network for cross-checking benefits applications isn't working properly," he said.
Maria is being cared for at "The Smile of a Child," a Greek children's charity near Athens. She speaks the Roma dialect but only a few words of Greek. A spokesman for the charity said a dental examination indicated she is "at least one or two years older than her supposed mother claimed." A DNA test showed that Ms Dimopoulou and Mr Saltis were not her parents.
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