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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 22:46 GMT 23:46 UK
Father rejects child bride criticism
Ana-Maria Cioaba and father Florin
Florin Cioaba was defiant about Ana-Maria's wedding
A self-declared Roma king has told critics to mind their own business after international condemnation of his young daughter's marriage.

Human rights activists and a member of the European Parliament have demanded action over the marriage of Ana-Maria Cioaba to a 15-year-old bridegroom.

But on Tuesday, the girl's father, Florin Cioaba, went on television to tell the critics - including MEP Emma Nicholson, the EU's envoy to Romania - to keep out of his business.

"As a father I know what is good for my kids. There are some laws that have to be respected. We Roma have a tradition to marry our children when minors," he said.

This is an offence for all Gypsies... I condemn their parents for what happened
Madalin Voicu
Roma parliamentary representative

Ana-Maria, reported to be either 12 or 14 years old, was reluctantly married on Saturday, despite storming off at one point during the ceremony.

Family members say she had been promised in marriage to 15-year-old Birita Mihai when she was aged just seven, for the price of 500 gold coins.

Baroness Nicholson demanded that both Ana-Maria and her teenage husband be taken into care.

The wedding was an "exceptionally grave breach of children's rights", she wrote to Romanian Deputy Prime Minister Serban Mihailescu.

The marriage was unlawful because it was "instigation to illegal sex between minors", said Nicolae Stefanescu-Draganesti, the president of Romania's League for Human Rights.

Madalin Voicu, a Roma representative in parliament, said: "This is an offence for all Gypsies... I condemn their parents for what happened."

Statutory 'rape'

Ana-Maria fled from church as her father conducted the wedding service.

Ana-Maria sitting in car after her wedding
Ana-Maria's marriage has sparked demands for action to protect her
She was persuaded to return and went through with the ceremony at Sibiu in central Romania.

Observers said Ana-Maria looked sad and sullen during the ceremony, and did not acknowledge the groom.

Her aunt, Luminita Cioaba, confirmed that Ana-Maria had no say in the matter.

Friends say she was forced to consummate the marriage.

"Legally it was rape," one friend said.

The Cioaba family spokeswoman, Dana Chendea, said the bridegroom's family had proudly shown a bed sheet to prove the marriage had been consummated.

Ana-Maria is reported to now be living at her mother-in-law's house with her new husband.

EU blow

The minimum age for legal weddings in Romania is 16, but the practice of school-age marriages remains common in the Roma community, and the Romanian authorities normally turn a blind eye.

Romania is committed to implementing laws that conform to European Union standards. It wants to join the EU in 2007 and its human rights record will have to be judged appropriate for membership.

Official figures say more than 550,000 Roma live in Romania, but the real number is believed to be more than 1.5 million. Romania has a population of 22 million.

The BBC's Robert Nisbet
"The family were calling it a happy union... her friends called it rape"

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