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Dublin: -2 °C Thursday 27 November, 2014

Roma couple charged with abducting mystery child ‘Maria’

The young girl was found at a Roma camp last week in Greece.

A ROMAN COUPLE were charged in Greece today with abducting a young girl dubbed the “blonde angel”, whose discovery has prompted thousands of calls from parents of missing children.

The couple – a 39-year-old man and his 40-year-old wife – were ordered detained by a court in Larissa, central Greece on charges of abducting the child, their lawyer Konstantinos Katsavos told AFP.

They face a sentence of between 10 and 20 years in prison if convicted.

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An employee of the ”Smile of the child” speaks on the phone. Pic: AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

Maria

Police found the blonde-haired, green-eyed girl named Maria in a Roma camp in the central town of Farsala on Wednesday, and the couple was arrested after DNA tests showed they were not related.

Though first described as a four-year old, dental checks suggest Maria is actually five or six, the head of the Greek charity Smile of the Child, which has been caring for her, told local media.

While police believe the girl may have been abducted at birth, the couple claims she was given up by her biological mother, who they say is Bulgarian, because she could not raise her.

“We’re talking about a woman who could not raise this child and who gave it to the couple in 2009 through a third party shortly after her birth,” a lawyer for the couple, Marietta Palavra, told AFP over the weekend.

“There has been no kidnapping, no robbery, no trafficking,” insisted Konstantinos Katsavos, who  represents the couple.

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AP Photo/The Smile of the Child Charity

‘It has given hope to so many parents’

Illegal adoption, in some cases involving trafficked children, has flourished in Greece, where birth rates are low and official adoption procedures grueling.

Intermediaries can charge €15,000-20,000 per child according to police data, the state-run Athens News Agency.

It said that impoverished Roma families in Bulgaria are approached by traffickers who offer to pay 3,000 euros for a boy and 2,500 euros for a girl.

Smile of the Child say they have been inundated with calls and emails in response to international media coverage of Maria’s discovery.

“Until Sunday evening, we had received more than 8,000 calls and thousands of emails,” charity spokesman Panagiotis Pardalis told AFP.

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AP Photo/Smile of the Child Charity

He said the organisation’s site had received more than 200,000 visits and its Facebook page about half a million.

It is either families (of missing children) or even unrelated persons (who contact us from abroad), sending us photographs and other information. We forward all the information to the police.

“We even have calls from Japan and South Africa now,” Stefanos Alevizos, a psychologist for the organisation, told Skai TV.

“This case has caused a huge international interest. It has brought to the surface the subject of child trafficking and has given hope to so many parents whose children are missing,” Pardalis said.

The family of Ben Needham, who disappeared from the Greek island of Kos in 1991 aged 21 months, welcomed news of the little girl’s discovery.

Greek authorities are working with Interpol to trace Maria’s biological parents in a Europe-wide search, according to a police source.

“The police are investigating every possible angle,” a spokeswoman at the local Larissa police station told AFP.

In January 2011, police arrested more than a dozen people in the two neighbouring Balkan countries, for the trafficking of newborn babies to Greece.

In that case it was Roma babies who were being trafficked.

Read: Court appearance for couple as authorities search for Maria’s true identity>

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