EU envoy spurred in to action by case of 12-year-old child bride

THE last time international concerns were raised about Roma attitudes to children and relationships was in September 2003, when it was announced Ana-Maria Cioaba, who was thought be just 12, was married to Birita Mihai, 15.

Both were the children of wealthy and powerful Roma clans in Romania. Reports said Ana-Maria had been promised as his bride when she was aged seven, for 500 gold coins.

The ceremony was being followed by a three-day party for 400 guests.

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After the ceremony, the child bride expressed her dismay and fled, brought back by her father, self-proclaimed Roma king Florin Cioaba.

The then-European Union envoy to Romania, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Emma Nicholson, demanded that the couple separate and cease all intimate relations until they were legally able to be married. The couple did separate for an unknown amount of time.

It was one of the first examples of the largely Western European values of the EU colliding head on with those of the Roma, who still largely adhere to their own system of morality and behaviour.

Romanian authorities frequently turn a blind eye to such Roma traditions, as prosecuting them successfully would be difficult without causing serious resentment.