NEWS

EU commissioner slams marriage of Romanian Gypsy, 12

The European Union stepped into a row over the marriage of a 12-year-old Romanian Gypsy «princess» when a senior official yesterday condemned the ceremony and called on Romania to respect human rights. The self-proclaimed king of the Gypsies, Florin Cioaba, hid the real age of his daughter Ana-Maria when he married her off to a 15-year-old boy at a ceremony on Saturday. The bridegroom, Birita, is the son of a wealthy Gypsy family to whom Ana-Maria had been promised for 500 gold coins when she was 7 years old. According to press reports, the groom’s family also provided a car and an apartment. EU Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou said the arranged marriage, at Sibiu in central Romania, was «illegal.» «Romania has asked to become a member of the EU… and that entails respect of human rights,» she said in a statement. «In the case of a conflict between basic human rights and tradition, tradition should adapt and safeguard principles.» The Romanian government on Tuesday opened an inquiry into the marriage in the aftermath of the national uproar. Some Rom leaders have sought to defend the ceremony on the grounds that it was part of their community’s cultural and social heritage. The two were married in front of more than 200 guests in a Pentecostal church and the bride wore a tiara and a white silk and lace dress by an Italian designer, though observers thought she looked sad. The wedding «is not recognized by the Romanian authorities and we have opened an inquiry to see how this union between minors was possible,» said government official Serban Mihailescu. According to Mihailescu, the bride and groom could be placed in a center for minors. «The harsh reaction of the government… betrays a lack of knowledge of Gypsy traditions,» Luminita Cioaba, the girl’s aunt and sister of Florin, told AFP, though she accepted that «sometimes the Gypsy traditions are very hard, even unfair.» «I don’t think a government inquiry will lead the authorities and public opinion to a better understanding of our traditions,» added Luminita Cioaba, a linguist and one of the small number of intellectuals in the Roma community. «Arranged marriages are an old tradition. By accepting the offer of the family of the future bridegroom, the father of the bride guarantees that the girl will not marry someone else.» But sociologist Vasile Ionescu, himself of Gypsy origin, said these marriages at a young age went back to the «sad era» when Roma were still serfs. «Before the Gypsies were freed in 1856, their women were often raped by their lords. So marriages between very young people became a way of preventing the abuse of women,» he said. Officially there are 536,000 Gypsies in Romania but community leaders put the figure at nearer 1.5 million. (AFP)