Imagine if your 5-year-old was being groomed to be married off as a child bride. That's what police suspected was happening when they found a little blond girl living in a camp with a family that looked nothing like her (not the people pictured above). The girl, known as "Maria," was found living in a Roma community with a couple who were proven, through DNA testing, not to be biologically related to her. Police believe she was being groomed for marriage as a "prize bride" since her fair coloring would fetch them a hefty dowry.
Children in the Roma community are considered of marriageable age at 12.
Romani are an ethnic group living throughout Europe often referred to as "gypsies," considered a derogatory term. Maria was found in a Roma camp in Greece. Police discovered her when they raided the camp searching for drugs and weapons, so it's not like they were following the trail of a kidnapping case. This was just a lucky coincidence. Imagine if they'd never raided the camp, or if they'd seen Maria but shrugged off her appearance.
Here's the sad part, though. It appears that Maria's biological parents may have been found, but this is probably not a case of kidnapping! Sasha Ruseva and Atanas Rusev of Bulgaria say they gave up a baby four years ago while working in Greece. When the baby was 7 months old, they had to return to Bulgaria, but they could not afford to keep their baby. They have eight other children.
Ruseva says she gave her baby to a woman who told her, "Give me this child, I will take care of it. You can come and take it back anytime you want." She claims she never received money for the baby.
So you have one couple who didn't want the child, and you have another couple who does want the child, but for a terrible reason. What can be done? Maria is staying with a charity called The Smile of a Child while all of this is sorted out.
What would a happy outcome for Maria look like? It sounds like her biological parents gave up their rights to her. She clearly can't stay with the Roma family in Greece. I suppose we can hope that she'll be adopted by a loving family. Given all the international attention this story has gotten, I wouldn't be surprised if there were already hundreds, maybe even thousands of families offering to do just that.
But it's still sobering to think of how close Maria came to becoming a child bride -- and how many other children do become child brides with no rescue in sight.
What do you think should happen to Maria?
Image via Daily Mail