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Old 11-04-2010, 10:00 AM   #1
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That's The Way We Get Married

So if that's their custom should anyone care, should anything be done to protect these children?


(AP) MADRID — A Romanian Gypsy woman whose 10-year-old daughter just gave birth in Spain says she's delighted to have a new granddaughter and doesn't understand why the birth has shocked anyone – let alone become an international sensation.

Spanish authorities have released few details about the case to protect the girl's privacy.

But in comments published Wednesday, her mother told reporters that the baby's father is a 13-year-old boy who is still in Romania and is no longer going out with her daughter.

The 10-year-old girl and her baby daughter plan to stay in Spain because the young couple separated, said the girl's mother. She identified herself only as Olimpia and appeared to be in her 30s but did not give her age.

She also said she didn't understand the attention the case was generating because she and her daughter are Romanian Gypsies, or Roma, and their custom is to allow girls to marry young even though that's against the law in Romania.

"That's the way we get married," the girl's mother told reporters Tuesday outside the modest apartment building in the southern town of Lebrija where the family lives.

Meanwhile, the story was going viral on the Internet and causing an uproar in Spain.

"Mother at 10 years old" blared a headline in Barcelona's La Vanguardia newspaper, which dedicated two pages to the story.

In contrast, news about the 10-year-old mother barely registered in Romania, where stories buried inside newspapers focused on the controversy the birth had caused among Spaniards.

The girl moved to Spain about three weeks ago, her mother said, and her baby was born in a hospital last week in the city of Jerez de la Frontera. There were no complications during the birth, and the 10-year-old and her baby are doing fine, her mother said.

"She's doing well and is very happy with her daughter," the woman said.

The 10-year-old and her baby are living with the new grandmother while Spanish social welfare authorities determine whether the family will be able to provide for the baby.

Leading daily El Pais and other Spanish news media said prosecutors had announced they would investigate whether the parents might be guilty of any negligence if the 10-year-old child was not registered for school or had not been taken to see a doctor in her final months of pregnancy.

No one was available at the prosecutors' office for comment on the matter late Wednesday.

"The case is shocking," said Maria Luisa Cava del Llano, Spain's ombudswoman.

Under Spanish law, having consensual sex with someone under age 13 is classified as child abuse. But a Justice Ministry official said this particular case is complicated, because the alleged father is not in Spain and is also a minor. It is not clear whether he could be charged, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry policy.

Romanian law allows girls to get married at age 16 with parental consent, or at 18 without it.

But arranged "marriages" between teenagers are relatively common among Roma, who make up about 1.5 million of Romania's 22 million people. Families "marry off" daughters when they reach puberty, with the "husband" usually being a couple of years older. The marriages are not recognized by the state.

Roma girls are often not encouraged to pursue a full education, and Romanian authorities do not widely enforce education laws that require children to attend school until age 16.

In 2003, there was an international outcry after the European Union envoy to Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson, demanded that a 12-year-old Roma girl and her 15-year-old common-law husband separate and cease all intimate relations until they were legally able to be married. The couple did separate for an unknown amount of time.
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Old 11-04-2010, 10:15 AM   #2
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I was playing with Barbie dolls at age ten.
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Old 11-04-2010, 04:40 PM   #3
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If there's laws in place to stop this sort of thing, then yeah, if you're able to put out some sort of punishment for it, do so. I understand the difficulties in enforcing the law here but I have to think there's some sort of way to get through regardless.

Having a baby at TEN? Uh, yeah, sorry, lady, most people are going to find that at best bizarre, at worst disturbing. There's no reason girls that young should be having kids.

Angela
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Old 11-04-2010, 05:00 PM   #4
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Maybe the 22nd Century will bring female equality and rights.
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Old 11-04-2010, 05:01 PM   #5
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Their culture basically consists of breeding large numbers of kids who are then moulded into their future life of begging.
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Old 11-04-2010, 06:44 PM   #6
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So if that's their custom should anyone care, should anything be done to protect these children?
Sure they should care, because this case is representative of a much broader problem where Roma in general--and Roma girls in Eastern Europe most of all--aren't receiving and utilizing the resources they need to give them a chance at a meaningfully self-sufficient, self-directed existence, as individuals and communities, in modern industrialized countries where their traditional trades are largely irrelevant. The 12 European countries with significant Roma populations are accountable to the EU for submitting, and in theory implementing, detailed "action plans" presenting ambitious ideas for improving Roma welfare through housing, education, health, job, and antidiscrimination initiatives. But too often they remain just that, plans.

It's true that Roma assimilation presents unique mutual challenges, since the majority have lived at the margins of European society for so many centuries that such an existence has become mutually normative, which itself generates all kinds of obstacles. I remember, about a decade ago now, a case which wound up before the European Court of Human Rights. I'm a little fuzzy on the details at this point, but the gist was that a young Roma boy, I think maybe in Bulgaria or Hungary, was caught gambling in the town square (illegal). On the spot, the police arrested and beat him (not an unusual occurrence) and, at some point during this, the boy's father arrived on the scene with a wooden plank in hand. The police assumed he was there to intervene against them, but instead he pushed past them and began striking his son himself (in a kind of ritualistic fashion, basically 'paddling' him). At this, the police beat and arrested the father as well for interfering. The incident was then reported in the local press as yet another Can you believe these people?!? story. At that point, the father took a rare risk and sued--not on his son's behalf, but because he was so indignant at the police response to what he considered his not only non-criminal, but righteous behavior: he had demonstrated both paternal responsibility and respect for Bulgarian(?) customs by punishing his son for disgracing his family and people, right in front of the justly aggrieved. The case was considered a pathbreaking one by human rights workers involved with Roma, because the particular tensions it exposed dramatically highlighted the fact that the Roma aren't just a people who often 'fail' to abide by European laws, they're also a people with their own laws and legal thinking--invariably poorly understood by non-Roma--and this could, perhaps, be converted into an asset in future outreach: rather than reflexively perceiving shockingly aberrant behavior and threatening them with x, y and z if they don't stop, start by inquiring into why they do this, what problem(s) they consider it to resolve, what circumstances in turn give rise to these problems, and how might we help to address those? Basic-sounding stuff, maybe, but especially when two peoples have this kind of history together, sometimes it's the most basic things that get most overlooked.

From what relatively little I've read on the topic, child marriage is not at all a universal Roma practice; it's rather associated with certain clans/castes, such as the Kalderash of Romania, which might or might not be the community this particular girl belongs to. But whatever the case, it's unlikely the Romanians will have much success in stopping it--even assuming a much higher level of commitment and receptivity towards Roma than they've typically shown thus far--if they treat it as just another degenerate Roma pathology.

I hope the Spanish authorities won't find it necessary to split up this particular family. The girl should obviously be enrolled in school and proper medical oversight for the baby provided, but very young motherhood need not be the end of her world.
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Old 11-04-2010, 07:28 PM   #7
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The Roma do realize that by having their kids have kids at age 10 or so, it raises the risk of ovarian cancer big time? Are they really willing to risk the lives of their daughters for the sake of their tradition?
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Old 11-04-2010, 07:35 PM   #8
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Obstetric fistulas are a far more likely (and often deadly, if untreated) consequence of giving birth before the pelvis is fully formed. But, no, of course these things aren't widely (if at all) understood in communities where this condition is common in the first place. Besides, many Roma fear doctors and avoid them unless absolutely necessary--especially obstetricians, due to the long history of forced sterilization of Roma women particularly in Eastern Europe.
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Old 11-06-2010, 11:46 PM   #9
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The Roma do realize that by having their kids have kids at age 10 or so, it raises the risk of ovarian cancer big time? Are they really willing to risk the lives of their daughters for the sake of their tradition?

Great point and other than the child endagerment issues. Little girls, age ten being mothers and this is okay? By her own mother?

Not to be too personal. But, at age ten. I didn't even have a monthly cycle. I was still a little girl. And there was no way that my mom or granny would have let me have a "boy friend."
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Old 11-07-2010, 01:28 AM   #10
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Be forewarned it's as melodramatic and voyeuristic as you'd expect from a tabloid, but the UK Daily Mail had an article today with more detail about the story. The girl's mother and aunt (who is also her 'ex-husband's' mother) are poor widows who'd been traveling back and forth the last few years between Spain, where they'd found work as migrant farmworkers, and Romania, where they'd left their children at their grandmother's house. Needless to say...two opposite-sex early adolescents from different households, put together under one roof and supervised by just one older adult who's probably out working herself much of the time = bad idea. Clearly that arrangement reflects impoverishment, not 'culture,' though you could probably apply the latter label to the mothers' response to the resulting pregnancy, i.e. to "let them live together as husband and wife" as the article puts it. The article further suggests that the family plans to return to Romania shortly, which is unfortunate, in that Spain is widely considered to have done the best job of any European country at encouraging Roma assimilation through a combination of well-designed social services, enforcement of school attendance and child healthcare, and protection from persecution and discrimination (historically milder in Spain to begin with)--none of which are in good supply in Romania.

I found myself largely agreeing with what is currently the first post in the Reader Comments queue:
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Being from the other side of the pond, I have a few observations. One, US papers would not name this child, nor ever publish photographs of her. Two, for a ten year old to get pregnant, her mom would be failing at supervision, and the child would be removed from the home...Three, the level of racism toward gypsies in these posts is amazing. Doubly so when you consider slurs like this of other races would be removed immediately. Europe is less enlightened than they let on.
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Old 11-07-2010, 03:15 AM   #11
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I've only recently learned of the blatant racism that seems to be prevalent in the European countries. It was very eye-opening.
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Old 11-07-2010, 04:36 AM   #12
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I've only recently learned of the blatant racism that seems to be prevalent in the European countries. It was very eye-opening.
Like this?

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Their culture basically consists of breeding large numbers of kids who are then moulded into their future life of begging.
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Old 11-07-2010, 01:56 PM   #13
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The Roma do realize that by having their kids have kids at age 10 or so, it raises the risk of ovarian cancer big time?
Not to be flippant but given the many, many issues that this community faces, long-term increases in ovarian cancer rates are probably the least of their concerns.
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Old 11-10-2010, 09:51 PM   #14
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Not to be flippant but given the many, many issues that this community faces, long-term increases in ovarian cancer rates are probably the least of their concerns.
Perhaps so. But, wouldn't these parents want their children to have better lives? The way out of poverty is not by having your first child. When you are still a child.

Financeguy mentioned begging in the streets. I don't think this is a racist comment. Europe, just like America, has an excellent and free educational system. For us on the U.S. it would be public elementary, middle and high school. Thus, giving every child an opportunity to start at entree level for many careers and the income to pay for additional training to advance themselves.
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Old 04-02-2012, 09:44 PM   #15
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There's a photo essay that's been circulating on various news sites recently, which although not about Roma reminded me of this thread. Its topic is a mass child wedding in the Gujarati village of Wadya, in western India, just a few weeks ago.

From the BBC's version of the photo essay:


The reason the story reminded me of this thread is that the children involved come from a unique community called the Saraniya, a formerly wholly nomadic group who--like the Roma--had for centuries migrated around the region engaging in small trades like metalworking, never integrating into the surrounding agrarian society but attached to it nonetheless. (Unlike the Roma, they're physically and linguistically indistinguishable from their neighbors, and do practice a form of Hinduism.) In the last century, the newly independent Indian state began forcibly settling them in northwestern Gujarat, with token provisions of basic farming equipment--a rather lost cause, since the Saraniya have no knowledge of farming and coaxing cash crops from the region's arid soils requires considerable experience. By midcentury, the primary profession of the Saraniya had become prostitution (with the men working as pimps/solicitors) and, predictably, they'd gone from being merely marginal to being reviled by other Gujaratis as a 'parasite class.' These prejudices are held by bureaucrats and law enforcement as well, so while nominally eligible for various forms of public assistance as a "De-Notified Community" (Delhi's euphemism for marginal tribes/castes whose inherited trades are considered criminal), the Saraniya have seldom received any of it--for example, the only school in their region goes just to 6th grade, and most of them have never been registered to vote, which in India is a pretty reliable marker of extreme marginalization.

As for the mass wedding--it's not a Saraniya custom, rather it was proposed to them by a local NGO whose workers had gained the community's trust over several years of involvement with them (primarily education provision, both academic and vocational). And yes, child marriage is illegal in India (though that's poorly enforced in rural areas), so this was a risky scheme on their part. What the NGO had noticed was that although relatively few Saraniya marry, women who are married--or even just betrothed, which is really what the above ceremony amounts to--never become prostitutes. So where we might see a tragic waste of potential, the community saw an inspiring display of parental resolve to commit to a different future for their daughters. The village is small, so there weren't really that many children to be married off--a dozen or so couples, by most accounts I've read--but thousands of Saraniya from around the region turned out to celebrate what to them was a momentous occasion. The NGO plans to build on the event with special vocational training programs for girls.

I'm not really familiar with the Saraniya nor with Gujarati issues in general, so I have no idea how likely this all is to work out, but just from some quick background reading on this NGO, I was encouraged to see that it's primarily headed up and staffed by Indians who are themselves from rural Gujarati backgrounds. From my own limited fieldwork in rural education in India, one all-too-familiar obstacle is a critical shortage of teacher-administrators (and in a village they're usually one and the same) with firsthand understanding of rural life. Too often, the education bureaucracy dispatches idealistic young city folks from upper-class backgrounds, who while well-intentioned don't know the first thing about village culture and society, so they wind up returning home after a year or two, burnt out and fuming bitterly about petty corruption, epidemic absenteeism and parents who see no value in education. The success stories almost always seem to involve teachers who grew up in the countryside themselves. Hopefully this will turn out to be the case for the children of Wadya.
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