The story of the "blonde angel," a 4-year-old girl named Maria, raises the issue of child trafficking in Balkans.
By Tzvetina Borisova for Southeast European Times in Nikolaevo -- 31/10/13
Christos Sali (right) and Selini Sali where charged on October 21st in Greece with abducting Maria, dubbed the "blonde angel," from her Bulgarian parents. The case drew international headlines. [AFP]
Maria was the subject of international headlines this month when she was discovered during a police investigation of suspected drug trafficking at a Roma settlement in central Greece. The people who were taking care of the child, a couple in their 40s, were found not to be her biological parents.
Her birth parents, who have nine other children, were later found in a Roma camp in Nikolaevo after the biological mother recognised the fair-skinned child as having striking resemblance with four of her other children -- all of whom show traits of albinism due to a gene in the father's family.
"We really want to have Maria back -- she is our blood, we have the same parents," said 20-year-old Katya Ruseva, Maria's biological sister, who bears a striking physical resemblance. "We don't want to give her to other people. We want to be all together."
While the Greek family has been charged with abducting Maria, police are investigating allegations that the Bulgarian parents, Sasha and Atanas Rusevi, received 1,000 euros for their baby -- an allegation that the family denies.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, about 120,000 women and children are trafficked in the Balkans annually. They are treated like a commodity and many are often forced into prostitution. Others are forced to commit crimes, work as servants in private homes, and endure other forms of exploitation, according to the organisation.
"There are currently 3,000 children transited through Greece by child-trafficking rings. The children originate mainly from Bulgaria, Romania and other Balkan countries," Lambros Kanellopoulos, the president of the UN children's agency UNICEF in Greece, told the BBC.
Such reports are common in the area.
"We really want to have Maria back," Katya Ruseva, Maria's biological sister, told SETimes. "We want to be all together." [Tzvetina Borisova/SETimes]
Nikolaevo Mayor Kosyo Kosev said he is confident such schemes do not exist in his small town.
"I was surprised such a thing had happened. I have never thought Roma might have given their children abroad; such information has never reached me," Kosev told SETimes. "After all, it has not been officially confirmed yet that the child has been sold. This is just a hypothesis at this stage."
Ivan Iliev, a cousin of the family, denied that the baby was sold.
"She [Sasha] did not sell her child. If she did, would they [the Rusevi family] be living in such misery? They would have bathrooms, toilets, bedrooms, nice TV sets, everything. And look what they have, just one room with one bed in it," Iliev told SETimes, pointing to a small, crumbling house with a muddy yard, full of children -- many dirty, naked and barefoot.
Iliev said Sasha agreed to give her child to a mysterious woman, "a Greek or whatever," who saw Maria crying out of desperation for not having anything to eat on a street in the Greek town where she and her husband had gone to work.
.............dic and based on campaigns, and resolving the issue requires everyday work." What is the best way to prevent children trafficking in the Balkans? Join the discussion below.
This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.