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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Inquiry into gypsy child wedding
Ana-Maria Cioaba and Birita Mihai
Police are investigating the schoolage couple
The Romanian Government has opened an inquiry into the marriage of the schoolgirl daughter of a gypsy king.

The move follows growing domestic and international anger since Ana-Maria Cioaba married her 15-year-old Roma bridegroom on Saturday.

Her age - reported as either 12 or 14 - and her apparent reluctance to go through with the ceremony prompted demands for the authorities to take both children into care.

Her father, self-proclaimed Roma king Florin Cioaba, appeared on television on Tuesday to defend the wedding.

(The marriage) is not recognised by the Romanian authorities and we have opened an inquiry to see how this union between minors was possible
Serban Mihailescu
Government official
"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.

But the authorities in Romania announced that the wedding would be investigated.

"(The marriage) is not recognised by the Romanian authorities and we have opened an inquiry to see how this union between minors was possible," said government official Serban Mihailescu.

Just because something is morally wrong under our culture does not make it morally wrong in all cultures
Paul, UK

A police spokesman in Sibiu, Transylvania, where the wedding took place, confirmed that a criminal inquiry had been launched and family members had given statements to police.

"We are investigating on charges of sex with a minor," the officer said.

The Roma family called the investigation "a masquerade against the royal household".

'Blind eye'

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

Romania wants to join the European Union in 2007, and a blistering letter from EU envoy Emma Nicholson demanding immediate action may have forced the authorities to act.

Ana-Maria was promised in marriage when she was seven, for the reported sum of 500 gold coins.

The consummation of her marriage was being labelled statutory rape by some of her friends.

They spent the (wedding) night together, it was the deal - nobody asked her whether she wanted it
Dana Chendea
Bride's family spokeswoman
The bridegroom's family produced sheets after the wedding night to prove the consummation, said a spokeswoman for the Cioaba family.

If government investigators conclude that the couple had sex, Ana-Maria could be taken away from her in-laws' house, where she is now living, officials say.

"It may be decided that she goes to a children's home," said Mr Mihailescu.

Ana-Maria Cioaba and father Florin
Florin Cioaba insists he knows what's best for his children
Cioaba family spokeswoman Dana Chendea said Ana-Maria had begun to "resign herself to her fate".

"They spent the (wedding) night together. It was the deal. Nobody asked her whether she wanted it," she said

The Roma community's only member of parliament has called the wedding an "affront" to the gypsy community.

"A 12-year-old child cannot understand the notion of marriage and the duties appertaining to it," said Madalin Voicu.

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.


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



SEE ALSO:
Action demanded over child bride
30 Sep 03  |  Europe
In pictures: Roma on the road
17 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery


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