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The Child Bride Whose Tears Have Belied A Gypsy Tradition

SHE'S the "princess bride" who did not want to be married. The arranged union of 12-year-old Ana-Maria Cioaba - the daughter of a self- proclaimed Gypsy king - to a 15-year-old has drawn international condemnation and a Romanian government inquiry.
Ana-Maria made it clear at the ceremony in Sibiu, central Romania, she opposed the wedding by storming out of the church in front of 400 guests.
"Leave me alonel" she screamed at reporters, swearing at them as she sought shelter in a nearby house. Her bridesmaids chanted slogans against the groom, Mihai Birita.
"She has been crying all day, but the marriage will go ahead with or without her," Dana Cherendea, an adviser to her father, Florin, said after the girl stormed out.
Ana-Maria returned to the church minutes later and - though she would hardly look at him - was duly married off by her father. After the ceremony the bride stormed out and refused to look at the groom, who walked uncomfortably behind.
"What marriage?" Ana-Maria said after the ceremony. Her 12 bridesmaids supported her rebellion, chanting, "Out with Birita!" - referring to the groom.
Human rights activists and the Government yesterday condemned the arranged marriage, saying it was illegal and a violation of human rights.
If investigators can determine that the marriage was consummated, officials could place the girl in an orphanage, according to Serban Mihailescu, a top government official.
''It (the marriage) is not recognised by the Romanian authorities and we have opened an inquiry to see how this union between minors was possible," Mr Mihailescu said.
He indicated that police investigation was launched in reaction to European Union pressure to seperate the couple.
Baronness Emma Nicholson, the EU envoy to Romania, has called on authorities to seperate the couple.
ALTHOUGH the legal age for marriage in Romania is 18, the country has generally tolerated the tradition among Roma - as Gypsies are also known - to marry early.
Before the ceremony, her father expressed his delight.
"This is a happy day for the royal household," he said.
"My youngest daughter is getting married."
The groom is the son of a wealthy Gypsy family to whom Ana-Maria was promised for 500 gold coins when she was seven.
A Sibiu police spokesman said members of the Cioaba family had given statements to police.
"We are investigating on charges of sex with a minor," a police officer said.
Ms Chendea defended the marriage yesterday and said the girl had begun to "resign herself to her fate".
"They spent the (wedding) night together. It was the deal." Chendea said.
"Nobody asked her whether she wanted it. It is part of a tradition for Gypsies and the marriage shows that traditions are respected."
The single Roma member of parliament, Madalin Voicu, said the wedding was an "affront" to the Gypsy community.
"A l2-yr old child cannot understand the notion of marriage and the duties appertaining to it," he said.
The marriage was a human rights violation, said Mark Percival, the leader of the Romanian Think Tank, a group which fights for democratic reforms in Romania.
"I totally condemn this marriage," Percival said.
"It is against European Union legislation. It is a violation of the right to marriage because they are being forced into a marriage they don't want."

Adelaide Advertiser (2-10-2003)
Alison Mutler

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