Jane Devine: Children removed from families as search goes on

The search for Madeleine should not justify other children being removed from their families. Picture: PA

The search for Madeleine should not justify other children being removed from their families. Picture: PA

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IT IS one thing to sway the media and public opinion, but quite another when the authorities start to act on rumour and supposition and readily remove children from people who don’t have enough standing in society to cause them any threat.

A child is found in a Roma settlement in Greece and is taken into care because she does not look like the people claiming to be her parents. She is blonde and blue eyed; they are dark. The same thing happens in Dublin: a seven-year-old girl is taken from her family home on the sole basis that she doesn’t look like her family. And then a two-year-old boy is seized in the north of Ireland on the same grounds.

This is nothing to do with child protection: removing children from situations where they may be at risk of harm. No, this is down to hysteria, stirred up by the hope that finding the “blonde angel” in the Roma camp in Greece has given to the McCanns, whose daughter Madeleine disappeared in Portugal in 2007.

Three children have been forcibly removed from the people they were living with on the basis that they may have been abducted from white families like the McCanns.

The search for Madeleine should not justify other children being removed from their families. But, it seems that with every development in this case, the stereotypes and prejudices become even more stark.

Had the McCanns been from a council estate, on benefits, overweight and inarticulate, the public may well have vilified them for leaving their children alone while they went out for dinner.

Had they been Roma, they probably wouldn’t even have been vilified: no-one would have cared or perhaps even heard about their daughter’s disappearance.

They are not, however, “benefit scroungers” or “gypsies”: they are two doctors who speak very well, look very well and because of that, they not only avoid blame, they garner immense support.

Contrast this with the experience of Roma families in Greece and Ireland about whom we know very little. Their children have been taken from them too. In the cases in Ireland, the children have been returned to their parents, probably quite traumatised; but the child in Greece, “named” Maria, who appears to be the subject of informal adoption between Roma families, may now be put up for adoption by the state. This may well be as much a tragedy for Maria and her family as Madeleine’s disappearance is for her and her family.

As a Greek journalist pointed out, “tragedies are not assorted to race”, yet the authorities are behaving like they are, and are prepared to devastate the lives of Roma children in the search for another child. This is at the very least racist, and has no regard for the well-being and rights of the Roma children involved.

One thing we should know about Roma people is that they cherish children – the Greek and Irish authorities should ask themselves if they do too.

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