Roma couple say mother gave up mystery girl to them in Greece

LARISSA, Greece Mon Oct 21, 2013 9:32pm IST

A poster of a girl, found living with a Roma couple in central Greece, is seen in the office of the ''Smile of the Child'' charity which is taking care of the child as police search for her biological parents, in an Athens suburb October 21, 2013. REUTERS/John Kolesidis

A poster of a girl, found living with a Roma couple in central Greece, is seen in the office of the ''Smile of the Child'' charity which is taking care of the child as police search for her biological parents, in an Athens suburb October 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/John Kolesidis

Related Topics

LARISSA, Greece (Reuters) - A Roma couple accused of abducting a mystery four-year-old girl dubbed the "blonde angel" by Greek media told a court on Monday that her biological mother willingly gave her to them as a baby because she could not look after her.

The discovery of the girl, known as Maria, has riveted Greece and prompted thousands of calls with leads from across the world as authorities try to track down her real parents, as DNA tests have shown she was not born to the Romas.

The case has raised questions about whether children are being stolen to order and whether the couple were part of a wider child trafficking ring - in addition to deepening mistrust between the Roma community and the Greeks.

They were arrested after police, who raided a Roma camp in central Greece last week in search of drugs and weapons, found the girl with pale skin and blue eyes who did not resemble the family she was living with.

The couple deny they snatched the girl and say they took her under their care after her mother handed the girl to them shortly after giving birth.

"It was an adoption that was not exactly legal but took place with the mother's consent," Constantinos Katsavos, one of the lawyers representing the 39-year-old man, told reporters, adding that is what the couple testified in court.

The Roma couple were ordered held in custody pending trial after responding to charges of abduction and procuring false documents behind closed doors as more than a dozen policemen stood guard outside.

So far more than 5,000 people, from Texas to Sweden, have phoned the charity looking after Maria to offer clues or search for their missing children.

Based on her characteristics, police believe Maria, who utters just a few words in Greek and Roma dialect, is eastern or northern European.

Parallels have been drawn to the case of Britons Madeleine McCann, who vanished while on holiday in Portugal in 2007, when she was three, and Ben Needham, who disappeared on the Greek island of Kos in 2001, when he was a toddler.

In the sunny, bustling square outside the court in the city of Larissa where the Roma couple faced magistrates, members of the Roma community gathered to show their support and said they were being unfairly stigmatised.

"They are completely innocent. These are all fairy tales and we're going to prove it to society," Babis Dimitriou, the head of the local Roma community, told Reuters.

"They accuse the Roma of everything - of stealing, of snatching kids. Do these things only happen among our race? This is a huge insult for us," he said.

Police have found the woman had two different identification documents and other papers suggested the couple had up to 14 children, but six were registered as having been born within less than 10 months.

"It's unfair," a Roma woman who gave her name as Kyriaki said outside the court on hearing the decision to hold the couple in custody. "She raised this child since she was a baby."

(Editing by Deepa Babington and Alison Williams)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

KOREA FERRY TRAGEDY

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Ukraine Crisis

Ukraine Crisis

Three dead in east Ukraine, Putin warns of "abyss".  Full Article | Related Story 

Ebola Outbreak

Ebola Outbreak

Death toll from Guinea Ebola outbreak rises to 122.  Full Article 

Putin Talks

Putin Talks

Runaway spy Snowden is surprise guest on Putin phone-in.  Full Article 

Missing Airliner

Missing Airliner

Search for Malaysia Airlines jet refocuses on drone scans of seafloor  Full Article 

U.S.-Japan Summit

U.S.-Japan Summit

Obama, Abe to battle negative images at U.S.-Japan summit.  Full Article 

Blogger Released

Blogger Released

China releases blogger on bail, jails another amid rumour crackdown   Full Article 

China Pollution

China Pollution

Beijing's bid to move polluting firms watched warily in nearby regions  Full Article 

Holy Week

Holy Week

The Christian faithful celebrate Holy Week, the week which leads into Easter Sunday.  Slideshow 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage