On October 16, 2013, during a drug and weapons raid, a little blond, blue eyed girl who goes by the name of Maria was found living in the squalor of a subsidized Gypsy encampment in central Greece. A local prosecutor on the scene became suspicious because the little girl, thought to be five or six-years-old, did not resemble her parents or siblings. A subsequent DNA test has determined that she is not related to other family members. The parents, who are also suspected of welfare fraud, have been arrested. They have provided conflicting reports on how Maria ended up in their custody. Maria has been placed with charity that is trying to locate her biological parents.
It is thought that there are upwards of 270,000 human trafficking victims living in the European Union at a given time. However, according to the latest data, a total of only 5,535 human trafficking victims were identified in the 24-European Union member states in 2010. 80% of victims were female and 17% were girls under the age of eighteen. The majority (around 62 %), of the victims are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, around 25 % for labor exploitation and around 14 % for the category “other”. Female victims have the largest share of victims classified under other forms of exploitation such as forced begging, selling of children etc., and there has been a gradual increase in the number of male victims across the three years. A clear majority (61 %) of the identified and presumed victims come from EU Member States.
Because the Greek birth registration system is antiquated welfare fraud is rampant. The couple who claimed to be Maria’s parents claim benefits totaling about $3,200/month for a total of 14-children, only four of whom have been identified. Various court records reveal that the woman was giving birth every four months during one period of time.
Maria’s Gypsy parents clearly have something to hide. The Gypsy couple say that they love Maria and are raising her as one of their own children, video suggests that she may have been singled out for exploitation. Initially they said that Maria had been given to them by her biological mother shortly after giving birth, but that story has changed repeatedly since they have been in custody.
Although this case is moving backwards in that the missing child was discovered before she was knowingly reported missing, it has already given hope to other missing child families. Madeline McCann’s parents have said that their hopes of being reunited with their daughter is reinvigorated by the discovery of little Maria. Similar sentiments have been published by the parents of other missing children.
There is a good chance that Maria will never be reunited with her biological family. If that occurs, let us hope that wherever she ends up, it is with a loving family who will give her the opportunities experience and love life that she never would have found in the squalor of the Gypsy village.