Bulgarian authorities said on Wednesday they would take into care most of the brothers and sisters of Maria, the four-year-old whose discovery in neighbouring Greece captured global attention.
DNA tests have confirmed that Sasha Ruseva, 35, is the biological mother of Maria, whose blue eyes and blonde hair aroused the suspicions of Greek police when they raided a Roma camp this month.
Ruseva and her husband, both Bulgarian Roma, have nine other children aged between 2 and 20 and live in deep poverty, occupying one room in a crumbling house in the town of Nikolaevo, 280 km (170 miles) east of Sofia.
TV footage that showed the children in shabby clothes sleeping on a mud floor and speaking little Bulgarian caused public outrage.
“We decided to accommodate four of the kids with foster families,” Diana Kaneva, head of the agency for social assistance in the area, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“Two children will be sent to a state institution and one will be placed with relatives of the family,” she said, adding that the measures were temporary and contacts between children and their parents would be encouraged by the social workers.
Two other children are over 18 and not subject to state protection.
Maria, dubbed “the blonde angel” by Greek media, is now in the care of the Athens-based charity Smile of the Child.
On Tuesday, Bulgarian authorities said they would take steps to bring her back to the Balkan country.
Ruseva, who said she left Maria as a seven-month-old baby with another couple in Greece because she was too poor to care for her, has also said she would like to take her back.
Both parents are jobless and live on welfare payments.
Ruseva is under investigation over whether she was paid for handing over her child, which she denies. The couple in Greece have been charged there with abducting a minor and detained.
The case has illustrated the plight of Roma gypsies in Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest member state. Many spend their lives close to destitution, illiterate and on the fringes of society. [Reuters]