DNA proves Bulgarian Roma couple are biological parents of 'Maria'

Couple suspected of purchasing the girl have been arrested on abduction charges in Greece

In Athens, newspaper front pages cover the story of a 4-year-old girl who was found living with a Roma couple in Greece. They are suspected of purchasing her for about $5,000.
Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

DNA tests have confirmed that a Bulgarian Roma couple are the biological parents of a girl at the center of a controversy in Greece, authorities said Friday. Police in Athens said they had arrested a Greek couple suspecting of purchasing the girl for about $5,000.

The case of the girl known only as “Maria” has drawn global attention, with widespread news reports raising the possibility of other children being stolen from their parents or sold by them. The way the case has been handled — by authorities and media — has also raised concerns about enduring racism toward the European Union's estimated 6 million Roma, a minority long marginalized in most of the continent.

Maria has been placed in temporary care since last week, when authorities raided a Roma settlement in central Greece for suspected drug trafficking and noticed that the blond, fair-skinned girl did not resemble the Greek Roma couple she was living with.

On Friday, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry confirmed that genetic profiles of Sasha Ruseva and her husband, Atanas, matched that of the girl. Ruseva has said she gave birth to a baby girl four years ago in Greece while working as an olive picker, and gave the child away because she was too poor to care for her.

The Greek couple, Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou, told police they had received the baby girl, then only a few months old, three years ago from a Roma woman.

They have been charged with abduction and trafficking of a minor after admitting to the prosecutor that they had paid money to obtain the baby, the state-run Athens News Agency reported.

A lawyer representing the Greek couple said Friday they planned to seek legal custody of the girl.

"Now that they're in prison there's not much they can do," the lawyer, Costas Katsavos, said. "But provided what we said is borne out, that it was not an abduction, then logically they will be released from prison and they will be able to enter a proper (adoption) process.

“They truly and ardently want her back," he said.

Sasha Ruseva, meanwhile, faces charges for allegedly "deliberately selling a child while residing out of the country."

Holding a red-haired child in her lap, Ruseva told reporters at her home this week that she gave Maria up because she could not afford to keep her. She and her husband have eight children.

In a separate case this week, two blond, blue-eyed Roma children were taken from their families by Irish police on suspicion that they, like Maria, had been abducted.

Irish police and health officials now stand accused of racial profiling after DNA testing confirmed that the 7-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy were in fact living with their biological families.

In response to the incident, the rights group Amnesty International issued a statement addressing racial profiling of Roma, which Amnesty says is widespread.

“The authorities must refrain from targeting Roma as an ethnic minority,” said Jezerca Tigani, deputy director of Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia program. “Creating the perception that ethnicity can be linked to criminality is discriminatory. The effects of this not only fuel racist stereotypes but are potentially disastrous.”

Al Jazeera with wire services

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