By Alyssa Kucera
This week, a blond girl known only as Maria, aged 5 to 6, was found in a Roma encampment in central Greece. Maria was determined through DNA testing to have no biological relationship with Christos Salis or EleftheriaDimopoulou, the couple she was found to be living with. The girl is being cared for by The Smile of the Child, a nonprofit child welfare organization, in an undisclosed hospital near Larissa.
The Roma, also known as Gypsies, are widely considered thieves by those living in the surrounding areas. The case has opened speculation on the Roma, who are widely known for welfare fraud as well as child labor. These are potential motives for Salis and Dimopoulou to kidnap or purchase Maria, who was discovered to have falsified birth and baptism documents along with three other children found living with the pair. The couple was found to have family registrations claiming to have fourteen children, while only four were found in the home. Roma have been known to commit welfare fraud by registering children more than once in different cities in order to get more money for nonexistent children. Police believe that this may be the reason Salis and Dimopoulou have the child, as they were found to collect close to $3,500 a month in welfare. Another possibility is that the couple bought or illegally adopted Maria to force her to beg on the streets for money, however there has been no evidence that this was the case.
Salis and Dimopoulou have changed their story twice of how they came to have the child. First they claimed that she was theirs, and after DNA testing proved otherwise they claimed that Maria’s biological mother was unable to care for her and gave them to the couple to raise as their own. The Roma community is claiming discrimination against their culture and Amnesty International has stated that prejudice and discrimination against the Roma are widespread. On Monday, Salis and Dimopoulou were charged with kidnapping a minor and falsifying documents; the man was also charged with possession of firearms and drugs that were found in the home.
The discovery of Maria has also led to the reopening of ten missing children cases across the U.S. Although Maria’s DNA did not come up in Interpol’s system for finding missing persons, the database does not include American or Canadian people. Interpol has released a “blue notice” requesting that other nations release any information they may have about the child’s alleged parents. This reopening of cases has brought hope to families with missing kids, as well as a renewed sense of pain and loss. Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin have been working with the FBI in hopes that Maria could be their missing daughter, Lisa Irwin, who went missing from their home in Kansas City, Missouri two years ago. Although it is unlikely to be Irwin because she would now only be three years old, the family continues to hope.