Gypsies in Maria's camp insist blond girl was informally adopted

(CBS News) LARISSA, Greece - The blond little girl known as Maria was raised by a Roma family in a poverty-stricken community in central Greece.

The Roma are often referred to as Gypsies. They exist on the fringes of Greek society.

DNA tests proved Maria is not related to the couple who claimed to be her parents.
DNA tests proved Maria is not related to the couple who claimed to be her parents.
CBS News

Police took Maria into protective custody after noticing she looked very different from the couple who said they were her parents.

DNA tests confirmed that Maria isn't their biological daughter and the pair have now been charged with child abduction.

The Greek government has asked the International Criminal Police Organization, known as Interpol, for help in identifying Maria, who is believed to be about 5 or 6. Greek police are investigating everything from child trafficking rings to welfare fraud as they chase down leads.

In the Roma camp, friends of the couple back up their story that they informally adopted Maria after she was abandoned by her birth parents, who were also Gypsies.

Babis Dimitrious and his wife say Maria used to come over to play with their grandchildren. They say there are no abducted children in the Roma camp.
Babis Dimitrious and his wife say Maria used to come over to play with their grandchildren. They say there are no abducted children in the Roma camp.
CBS News

Babis Dimitrious and his wife say Maria used to visit them to play with their grandchildren. They insist there are no abducted children in the Roma camp.

Many Roma accuse the Greek government of discrimination. They say Maria was unfairly taken away, and her adoptive parents arrested, because the police believe all Roma are criminals.

A few doors away from where Maria used to live, an elderly man said the media show the Roma in a bad light. His son asked a CBS News crew to leave.

But others in Greece are convinced that Maria was kidnapped and is far better off where she is now.

Panagiotis Pardalis works for the charity that's now caring for the girl, who speaks only the Roma language.

"She tries to understand, to learn new words, to communicate, and this is quite bizarre because she doesn't ask for anyone," said Pardalis. "She seems to enjoy her new environment, and the new reality in her life."

This case has opened up old wounds in Greece, but it's also led to an investigation into all birth certificates issued in the last five years. That's because of fears that many children may have been abducted, trafficked and then given false documents.

  • Holly Williams

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