Media Revives an Old Myth about the Roma

Published: 23 October 2013

Region: Worldwide

roma people paintingAfter media all over the world reported on a case of a child in Greece taken into custody under suspicion she has been kidnapped by a Roma couple, many reporters resorted to stereotype in their coverage.

Not only that Roma communities face stigmatisation because of the case in Greece, but there are some officials’ reactions , like those in Ireland, where police have taken away children who happened to be blond and whiter than Roma people usually are.

According to the media reports, one child has been returned to their parents in Ireland while the other is awaiting DNA results. The girl in Greece is in the protective custody while the couple in whose care she was found, were charged with abduction. It was revealed that there is no DNA connection between the child named “the blond angel” by the press, and the Roma couple who claimed to be her parents. The couple and their legal representatives claim they were given the child by her biological mother who could not afford to take care of her.

In most of the media reports the emphasis was put on the fact that the girl from Greece is blond and blue-eyed in contrast to the Roma family in which she has been found. Racist and irresponsible reporting on this case has brought up myths and stereotypes and has the potential to damage the children concerned, parents of missing children as well as Roma communities around the world.

British tabloids linked this case with the disappearance of a British child back in 1991 in Greece. The Mirror reports that the family believed “Gypsies always held the clue” to the abduction of their son and called for the Government to urge Greek police to make fresh inquiries.

The BBC reports on child trafficking problems in Greece saying “the 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 illegal adoption schemes”. “Known as ‘the traffic-light children’, they are a common sight on Greek streets”, reports BBC online.

After the wave of similar reporting worldwide Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre in Ireland has warned about a ‘witch hunt’ against Roma saying that there is a “real danger” that State action based solely on the basis of appearance could create the conditions for an increase in racism and discrimination against the Roma community.

Titled “Baby-snatchers or scapegoats” NBC News writes about the old stereotype about Gypsies, which is derogatory term, who are “stealing children”.

“Romanis have always been regarded with suspicion. Because they’re not settled, they’ve tended to be regarded as foreigners and others. Because they’re from a minority culture they get treated in the way that many minorities have been for hundreds of years”, says Gary Craig, professor of social justice at Britain’s Durham University for NBC News.

The racist reporting of the Greek case is all the more bitter to those familiar with Roma history, concludes the Guardian. “Criminal gangs that exploit children exist in every society – particularly poor ones – but the persistent linking of child abduction with Roma ethnicity per se is nothing more than the perpetuation of a racist medieval myth”, says the author of the Comment is Free in the Guardian.