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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Action demanded over child bride
Ana-Maria sitting in car after her wedding
Ana-Maria's marriage has sparked demands for action to protect her
Human rights activists and a member of the European Parliament have demanded action over the marriage of a young Roma princess to a 15-year-old bridegroom.

Ana-Maria Cioaba, whose age has been reported as either 12 or 14, 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 a price of 500 gold coins.

"I totally condemn this marriage," said Mark Percival, leader of the Romanian Think Tank, which fights for democratic reforms in Romania.

"Romanian authorities ought to take appropriate action to prevent this violation of human rights."

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.

She will help her mother-in-law cook and clean and raise her children. It doesn't matter what she wants
Dana Chendea
Roma king's spokeswoman
British MEP Emma 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.

She asked how this "high misdemeanour" was being corrected, and demanded that the children's rights be restored and their trauma addressed.

"I would expect the senior social workers and the police to move in immediately and to remove her from harm," she said.

Ana-Maria Cioaba and father Florin
Ana-Maria's wedding was "agreed" when she was seven
Privately, Baroness Nicholson has described the marriage as "utterly disgusting", says the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Bucharest.

Ana-Maria, the youngest daughter of self-proclaimed Roma king Florin Cioaba, fled from church as her father conducted the wedding service.

She was persuaded to return and went through with the ceremony at Sibiu in central Romania.

Friends say she was forced to consummate the marriage.

"Legally it was rape," one friend said.

Romanian hopes

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

Ms Chendea added: "She will leave school and concentrate on her job as a wife.

"She will help her mother-in-law cook and clean and raise her children. It doesn't matter what she wants."

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.

Ana-Maria Cioaba and Birita Mihai
The couple are both school-age
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.

Baroness Nicholson described the wedding as a further blow to Romania's credibility in the area of children's rights.

Observers at the wedding 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.

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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