SOCIETY

Hundreds of children missing from Aghia Varvara institution

A total of 502 boys and girls have gone missing in the period from 1998 to 2002 from Aghia Varvara Children’s Institution in western Attica, mostly Albanian and Roma youngsters who worked as street peddlers and car window washers, yet the state cannot say where they have gone.

The shocking dimensions of the issue were recently illustrated by a written response issued by Justice Order Minister Haralambos Athanasiou to a question on the matter posed in Parliament recently by Maria Yiannaki, a deputy for Democratic Left.

“You will soon be in a position to know what action I will take together with the relevant authorities and by colleagues at the Interior and Labor, Social Insurance and Welfare ministries,” Athanasiou told Giannaki, making it clear that he was in no position to offer any information regarding the matter.

Athanasiou also added that he has made a request for a full briefing on the issue of children going missing from the institution, which specializes in the rehabilitation of street children, but that it is yet to take place.

“When I took up my duties at the Justice Ministry, I asked to be fully informed in regard to this especially sensitive issue,” said Athanasiou, who assumed his post after a cabinet reshuffle in June.

“I have also asked for a briefing from the judicial authorities as to whether any legal action has been taken and at what stage any such action may be,” he added.

Giannaki cited a June 1, 2012 report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that made special mention of the Aghia Varvara disappearances and expressed concern regarding the lack of progress made by Greek authorities in investigating reports from children’s rights groups.

The UN report says that the Greek Ombudsman launched an investigation in 2004 into allegations made by a Swiss nongovernmental organization that brought the issue to the attention of the CRC, which found a series of shortcomings at the institution and pointed to serious funding shortages that affected relocation programs and security. The Ombudman’s report, according to the UN, suggested that the 502 children from among the 661 accommodated at Aghia Varvara from 1998 to 2002 either ran away or were returned to Albania.

The fact, however, is that what became of these 502 children is still open to question as no comprehensive final report on their whereabouts has been released.