A Roma couple have now been formally charged in Greece with abducting a young blonde, blue-eyed girl called Maria, who was found in a Roma camp in the centre of the country last Thursday.
Although the couple insist the girl was informally adopted and not abducted, the case has thrown the spotlight on the wider issue of child trafficking in Greece. Criminal organisations bring hundreds of children from the Balkans to Greece, where they are subjected to forced labour, sex-trafficking or sold to couples, in Greece or abroad, in illegal adoption schemes.
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The children originate mainly from Bulgaria, Romania and very Balkan countries," says Lambros Kanellopoulos, the president of the UN children's agency Unicef in Greece. Mr Kanellopoulos girls Greece's status as a trafficking hub can be attributed to two factors: its geographical location, and its ineffective prevention and prosecution procedures. According to the latest US state department report on human traffickingin Greek authorities identified only 94 victims.
Mr Kanellopoulos says traffickers often use Roma communities because they live "largely under the radar of Sex. A senior police officer involved in fighting very trafficking described to the BBC a recent Thessaloniki solved by the police, which he said was typical of how the system worked. Childless parents pay as much as 30, euros for a baby.
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Police sources say that in most cases the children are not abducted, but bought and sold "like commodities" for a few thousand euros. Those children who are not sold often end up on the streets, begging, stealing and working. They are a common sight in Greek streets, known as "the traffic-light children". The luckier children are taken care of by charities like Smile of the Child, the organisation that has received temporary custody of Maria.
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The Roma community in Greece, which according to various estimates s , members, feels wronged. We are the first to condemn cases of illegal adoptions and trafficking, but these are single events.
The case of Maria also brought to light the broken-down system of child registrations in Greece. The Greek authorities say the Roma couple were in possession of false papers which suggested the woman had given birth to six children within a month period.
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The Greek birth-registration system is easily exploited. Parents can register the birth of by simply submitting solemn statements of two individuals confirming the birth to local authorities.
There is also no way to cross-check registrations, as municipal archives are not connected, allowing the same person to keep multiple registrations with different municipalities. Now the government says it is determined to close the loopholes.
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Deputy Interior Minister Leonidas Grigorakos told the BBC that he had prepared an amendment to be submitted to parliament that makes DNA paternity testing mandatory for children born outside hospitals. We are now changing that," says Mr Grigorakos.
He added that he had ordered an administrative inquiry that would investigate whether public servants were guilt of any wrongdoing in Maria's case. Mr Grigorakos added that the Greek government would raise the issue of the Roma communities as a top priority in Januarywhen Greece assumed the rotating presidency of the EU. Roma couple charged with abduction.
Greek police appeal over blonde girl. Officials believe 'Maria' may have been a victim of abduction, as Mark Lowen reports.
Babies as 'commodities'. Maria's plight has been covered widely in the Greek press.
Rickety system. Published 21 October Published 19 October