It has a painful and centuries-long tradition that Romani children are taken away from their families. One weekend in September in Vienna (AT), a four-year old girl was taken away from her grandmother. The grandmother was begging on the street. The little girl was kept in state care for two days, in an institution where nobody spoke her mother tongue. By coincidence, Ulli Gladik, who speaks Bulgarian, witnessed the incident and reports:
Friday afternoon, a beggar – we ́ve known each other for quite a while – took me to a crying Bulgarian woman. The woman could barely speak; she was shaken about what had happened to her. Her brother-in-law told me about the incident: the woman, let’s call her Ms. Kostova, was begging in the afternoon, with her granddaughter sitting on her lap. The police took both to a police station where the child was taken away from her. Ms. Kostova was sent away without providing her with any information about what would happen to her 4-year old grandchild. There was no interpreter on site, who could have explained the further proceedings to Ms. Kostova. There was no one to calm down the little girl.
I accompanied the family to the police station, where we were told that the child was handed over to the youth welfare services. I assumed that the child would be in the institution “Drehscheibe” (a state institution for unattended minors without Austrian citizenship), so I called them. I was told that the child was in their care „because it was used by the woman for begging“ and that there were doubts about the woman being the childs ́ grandmother, so they would have to check on that. After receiving this information, Ms. Kostova went to the “Drehscheibe” with her relatives. An employee of the Bulgarian Embassy who was also present told her that after a few days the child would be handed over to the youth welfare services in Bulgaria. The grandmother had to leave without the child who was crying out for her.
On Saturday Ms. Kostova called me. She asked me to call the “Drehscheibe” because she and her family wanted to know how their granddaughter was doing. Ms. Kostova does not speak German and in the “Drehscheibe” nobody speaks Bulgarian or Romani. She didn ́t want to visit the child in the “Drehscheibe” in order to spare her granddaughter the pain of separation, when she would have to leave her behind again. I called them and the employee of the “Drehscheibe” told me that the child was well off.
On Sunday morning the parents of the girl arrived in Vienna. The grandmother had informed them already about what has happened, because only the mother was entitled to pick up the child (as I was told). The journey from Eastern Bulgaria to Vienna takes one and a half day by bus. The family could not afford a plane ticket. We met at 8 am and went to the “Drehscheibe” together. The little girl clinged to the grandmother immediately and repeated constantly, “I want to go, Granny, please, let us go…” But we could not go, we needed to wait for the head of the “Drehscheibe” and an employee of the Bulgarian Embassy. In the meantime, I wanted to give the girl a toy, but she broke out in tears. The grandmother explained to me that she remembers the moment when she was left behind at the “Drehscheibe”: the staff tried to distract her with toys.
What the grandmother has said earlier became obvious now: the child has a much closer relationship to her than to her mother. The mother has another severelydisabled child, so the girl grows up with her grandma. Besides, it is quite common in Bulgaria that grandmothers play a crucial role in the upbringing of their grandchildren.
We had to wait for a whole hour and a half in the “Drehscheibe” until the employee of the Bulgarian Embassy arrived. The family was nervous, they were afraid that they had to leave without their child. The employee of the embassy explained to them: „According to Austrian law, if one begs, the child is taken into state care. If you beg with a child again, it might happen that the child will be taken into state care permanently.” He checked the documents of the mother. Finally, we could go.
Can begging be a reason to take away a child from his/her psychological parent? Does poverty justify this action, and if so, where is the legal basis for this?
In case it needs to be checked whether the grandmother is the real grandmother: Do child and grandmother not have the right to an interpreter? Does the child not have the right to be taken into care by people who speak its mother tongue?
Why didn ́t the authorities note the phone number of the grandmother? It would have been easy to contact the mother in Bulgaria. And it would have needed only a simple official identity check to ascertain that she was the real mother. It would have spared the child a several days-long stay first in an Austrian, and then in a Bulgarian state institution – in Austria even without being able to speak to someone – a traumatic experience for a child.
Why was the certified power of attorney not accepted? It stated clearly that the grandmother was entitled to cross the border with her granddaugther.
There are rumours spread that plenty of cases of child trafficking would exist in the context of begging. Why is still no data and precise documentation available on this issue?
Does the child and its family not have the right to be treated without prejudices? Why is the presumption of innocence not valid in this case? Would the family be treated in the same manner, if they wouldn’t be Roma?
And yes, children should not be used for begging. But shouldn’t the circumstances be investigated in detail, for each single case? Does our government have the right to make a wholesale judgement and to sweep away the needs of those in need? May fundamental rights be violated with the justification of a generalized law?
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