Fate of Roma girl little Maria goes to court

By Nathalie Savaricas

Police found Maria when they raided a Gypsy, or Roma, encampment near the central Greek town of Farsala in October. Photo / AP
Police found Maria when they raided a Gypsy, or Roma, encampment near the central Greek town of Farsala in October. Photo / AP

Just a few months ago, her story made headlines around the world. But as courts in Greece mull over her fate, the mention of her name has hardly raised an eyebrow.

The custody trial of "Little Maria", as she became known, started yesterday in a court in the central city of Larissa.

The fair-haired child was placed into foster care six months ago after she was spotted during a raid on a Roma settlement, where she was living with a couple who were not her biological parents.

Authorities must now decide whether to keep Maria in Greece or hand her over to the country of her birth Bulgaria.

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In either case, it is unlikely that the five-year-old will be reunited with the people she grew up with. The Greek charity "Child's Smile", which has been caring for her, has said the entire process will undoubtedly scar the girl.

"Such a violent change is not an easy experience for the child," said Panagiotis Pardalis, who works for the charity. "But we are dealing and supporting her with our social workers and psychologists in order to ensure her wellbeing and development."

Maria, who is expected to start school next year, has been provided with psychological support and the charity's experts have been asked to prepare an evaluation of her condition.

Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Sali, the Roma couple who cared for her until recently, were jailed on charges of kidnapping and falsifying birth records. They claimed they adopted Maria with the permission of her biological mother. Their story was eventually backed up when the woman was traced to a village in Bulgaria.

One of the couple's lawyers, Kostas Katsavos, told The Independent that he was pessimistic about the couples chances of being released soon, and that it was unlikely they would be allowed to see the child.


Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis with Maria. Photo / AP

Bulgarian authorities have said they are in favour of repatriating Maria to her country of birth. There she will be placed in a care home while she is put up for adoption.

The Bulgarian consul, Lubomir Georgiev, told the judges about Maria's likely future and living conditions if she were to be handed over, Greek media reported yesterday. But the Roma couple remain hopeful and want their adopted daughter to remain in Greece to boost their chances of winning her back in a custody trial when they are eventually released.

The courts decision is expected within the next few months. Relatives of the couple said they had tried to begin the legal process of adopting Maria, but their illiteracy thwarted their efforts.

- The Independent

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