By Lina Giannarou
Stoyanka Stoyanova, of Sliven, Bulgaria, gave birth in a hospital in Greece. She spent 40 days with her infant before it was sold. The buyers gave the middleman his fee in an envelope. She was promised 1,000 euros, but she never received any money. “Then they put me on a bus and sent me back home.”
Another woman, Velichka Vicheva, who was 17 at the time, told her father that she would travel to Greece to pick grapes. She gave birth at a hospital in Larissa but the deal between the child-seeking couple and the trafficker was scrapped. Eventually, Vicheva was taken to Athens, where a buyer was found in just one hour.
The women tell their stories in a documentary that was shown on Bulgaria’s Nova TV back in August 2006. The film was mentioned in a report by the International Herald Tribune in December that year titled “Baby trafficking is thriving in Greece.”
The discovery of a blond girl known as Maria at a Roma camp in Farsala, central Greece, has caused a national sensation and spurred the authorities to action, but the uncomfortable truth is that we have been reluctant to heed past warnings.
The media at home and abroad as well as human rights organizations have repeatedly warned about the growing problem of baby trafficking, but the authorities have largely turned a deaf ear. There has been very little action to tackle illegal adoptions although Greece is known to be a haven for baby trafficking.
Anyone who wants to find information about adopting a baby can do so. In clinics and hospitals across the country, women from Bulgaria, Albania and other countries (not necessarily Roma women) give birth to children who are given up for adoption in exchange for a fee. Middlemen work with doctors and lawyers who are also part of the baby-trafficking racket.
In most cases, the two parties do not even follow the process of private adoption, which is legitimate (paying a fee is against the law), i.e. filling out the necessary paperwork. After failing to conceive a child through in vitro fertilization (IVF), a couple in northern Greece were informed of the “alternatives” by their doctor at the maternity clinic. About a year ago, they received a call from the doctor. “Come now,” he told them. The couple found themselves in a room at a Thessaloniki clinic where a Bulgarian Roma woman had just given birth to a boy. Staff at the hospital made sure that the Greek woman was registered as the mother of the child.
Most candidate parents take the illegal road because they are put off by the long waiting periods for children living in institutions (it can take up to five years, against the European average of 2.5 years). About 35 children are placed for adoption every year through the Mitera Foster Home in Athens, when the number of requests reaches 200 (according to staff at Mitera, the long waiting list is not the result of red tape but the lack of children available for adoption).
As a result, the vast majority of adoptive parents prefer to sign a private agreement with a natural mother willing to hand over her infant. Of the 500 children who are adopted every year (those who appear on official records), only one-fifth come from state adoption institutions.
At the heart of the problem is contradictory legislation. On one hand, it allows adoption by single-parent families (it is quite progressive in that respect) but, on the other, it has introduced private adoptions without any state supervision, which creates risky loopholes.
In May 2011, then Health Minister Andreas Loverdos and Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis announced plans to update the country’s legislation in a bid to make sure that no adoptions would be put on hold because of time-consuming procedures. However, a special committee that was subsequently set up to look into the issue never completed its task.