A little beggar girl on the streets of Mexico has provoked worldwide interest – because she is white and blonde.
A photo of the five-year-old standing next to a rear-view mirror on a Guadalajara street went viral because of fears she may have been kidnapped.
But the picture has provoked a debate about racism because the only reason why the little girl came to attention above the thousands of other impoverished children on the streets is because she is light skinned and they are dark.
The controversy started last week when a Facebook user posted a photo of the girl. He suspected she might have been kidnapped as 'her parents are brown,' and he immediately contacted a welfare agency and state prosecutors.
"Let's spread this photo around," the unidentified user wrote. The photo was shared by tens of thousands with some praising the photographer and other complaining the post was racist.
"The concern was the suspicion the girl had been stolen," said Lino Gonzalez spokesman for prosecutors in Jalisco state, where Guadalajara is the capital.
"We had to respond because there was suspicion a crime had been committed." Mexican authorities immediately began investigating the girl.
They soon found the five-year-old, put her in a Guadalajara orphanage, and detained her 23-year-old mother for two days.
Authorities said she lied about her address and about the father of the girl, first stating he was a foreigner, then saying he was was Mexican, but estranged from her.
The child's grandmother - who also has green eyes - was able to hand over the birth certificate of the girl.
The mother was later released and there were no signs the girl had been kidnapped, though DNA results are pending.
Authorities say they are also considering charges of child exploitation.
The case sparked international outrage.
"We need to see a white girl to worry about kidnapping, trafficking of children and child exploitation," wrote human rights activist Yali Noriega.
"I've never seen photos of Indian children or simply dark-skinned kids circulating on the Internet with people asking others to help them."
Others believe the mother could sue the government for taking her daughter based only on uninformed public opinion.
"It is not right that just because of the color of her skin, they can say it's not her daughter," said Xochitl Galvez, a former federal Cabinet minister who is an advocate for Indian rights.
"There is no such thing as a pure race. We are a mix ... that tells you a lot about the authorities' lack of knowledge."
Galvez said authorities should focus on reducing the high rate of child labour in Mexico and create more programs to support poor single mothers.
"The solution is not to arrest the mother or take the girl from her,' she said. 'We should be asking what do we do to help these children?"
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