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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Gypsy king's daughter is sad child bride
Ana-Maria Cioaba and Birita Mihai
The couple are both school-age
The school-age daughter of a Romanian gypsy (Roma) king has married a 15-year-old bridegroom.

Ana-Maria Cioaba, whose age has been reported as either 12 or 14, stormed off at one point during the ceremony at Sibiu in central Romania, shouting at reporters to leave her alone.

But she was persuaded to return by her family and went through with the wedding to Birita Mihai, himself from a wealthy Roma family.

Reports say Ana-Maria had been promised as his bride when she was aged seven, for the price of 500 gold coins.

Correspondents say the wedding is technically illegal under Romanian law, where girls must be at least 16.

What marriage?
Ana-Maria Cioaba after ceremony
But the practice of school-age marriages remains common in the Roma community, and the Romanian authorities normally turn a blind eye.

Ana-Maria's father, Florin Cioaba, is one of a handful of self-proclaimed Roma kings in Romania.

Observers said the young bride looked sad and sullen during the ceremony.

"She has been crying all day, but the marriage ceremony will go ahead with or without her," said a family adviser, Dana Cherendea, after the bride had stormed out, and hinted that the girl might receive a beating for her defiance.

Sometimes the gypsy traditions are very hard, even unfair
Luminita Cioaba
Bride's aunt
"Ana-Maria did not have any say over this marriage. It is something that was decided when she was seven," her aunt Luminita Cioaba, told AFP news agency.

"Sometimes the gypsy traditions are very hard, even unfair," she added.

A cousin of Ana-Maria said some Roma women were beginning to reject the custom of arranged marriages.

"I don't want to marry, I am choosy and I have refused several marriage partners my parents presented to me," said 17-year-old Gabriela Mihai.

Ana-Maria herself appeared to reject the marriage.

Bride's wedding dress
The bride wore an Italian gown and diamond tiara
"What marriage?" she said after the ceremony, as her 12 bridesmaids chanted, "Out with Birita!"

The ceremony was being followed by a three-day party for 400 guests. The feast included 12 suckling pigs and thousands of bottles of wine.

"This is a happy day for the royal household - my youngest daughter is getting married," said Mr Cioaba.

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.

More than 200 guests attended the wedding at a Pentecostal church.

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

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