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Maria may be older than four, says charity boss as confusion surrounds parents' identity

The girl found with a Roma family in central Greece last week may be older than four and says she is happy that she has been taken into care, the head of a children’s organization that is looking after her has told Kathimerini’s website.

The president of The Smile of the Child, Constantinos Yiannopoulos, said that authorities initial assessment that the girl was four was based on a forged birth certificate and there is evidence to suggest she is older.

Yiannopoulos told www.kathimerini.gr that the girl, Maria, is finding it difficult to communicate because she speaks mostly Roma but she has told a psychologist taking care of her that she is happy. The charity boss also said that the girl has not asked to see any member of the family that were looking after her.

“In contrast to the first day, when she was in a state of shock, little Maria is now feeling absolutely calm,” said Yiannopoulos. “She felt our support and warmth and its significant that she is in an environment that is clean.”

The Roma man and woman claiming to be her parents are due to face a magistrate on Monday on kidnapping charges after DNA tests revealed that she was not their daughter. They claim that they agreed to look after the girl after her Bulgarian mother said she could not look after her any longer.

Babis Dimitriou, the chairman of the Farsala village Roma association, told The Daily Telegraph: «There was a Bulgarian husband and wife who were working around Greece in temporary jobs, who used to stay here sometimes.

"At one point they left the girl to be raised by the family here in the village.

"The family raised the child as if it was their own, although her father would come back every now and then to see her. The last time he visited was only five days ago, after the arrests had been made.”

An international search has been launched to find Maria’s real parents.

The Smile of the Child says it has received more than 8,000 calls in connection to Maria. Its website has been visited more than 200,000 times and 500,000 people have viewed the organization’s Facebook page.

Yiannopoulos said he hoped the case involving Maria would prompt European authorities to look more closely at the issue of child trafficking. He said there was a ring operating in Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece.

At the end of August, Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou informed Parliament that judicial authorities were investigating more than 40 cases of alleged child trafficking in Greece, mostly in Thessaloniki and eastern Crete.

ekathimerini.com , Monday October 21, 2013 (14:07)  
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