Fate of Roma girl ‘little Maria’ to be decided by Greek court

Authorities will now have to decide on whether to keep the girl in Greece or hand her over to the country of her birth – Bulgaria

Athens

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

The custody trial of “little Maria”, as she became known around the world, started today in a court in the central Greek city of Larissa.

The fair-haired child was placed into the care of an NGO 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.

The authorities will now have to decide on whether to keep the girl in Greece or hand her over to the country of her birth – Bulgaria.

In either case, it is unlikely 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,” Panagiotis Pardalis, who works for the charity, said. “But we are dealing and supporting her with our social workers and psychologists in order to ensure her well-being and development.”

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

The Roma couple who cared for her until recently, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Sali, were jailed on kidnapping charges and falsifying birth records. They claimed they had 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 couple’s chances of being released soon, and that it was unlikely they would be allowed to see the child.

The 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, informed the Greek judges on Maria’s likely future and living conditions if she were to be handed over, the Greek media reported. 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 court’s 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.

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