Greece orders birth certificate investigation after girl's discovery

ATHENS Tue Oct 22, 2013 8:14pm BST

Forty year-old Roma woman by the name Selini Sali or Eleftheria Dimolpoulou, 39 year-old Roma man by the name Christos Salis (R) and a girl found living with them in central Greece, are seen in a handout photo distributed by the Greek police and obtained by Reuters October 21, 2013. REUTERS/Greek Police/Handout

Forty year-old Roma woman by the name Selini Sali or Eleftheria Dimolpoulou, 39 year-old Roma man by the name Christos Salis (R) and a girl found living with them in central Greece, are seen in a handout photo distributed by the Greek police and obtained by Reuters October 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Greek Police/Handout

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's top court has ordered an urgent investigation into birth certificates issued across the country in the past six years after a blonde girl was found with a Roma couple who had falsely registered her as their own.

The discovery of blue-eyed Maria - dubbed the "blonde angel" in Greek media - during a police swoop on a Roma settlement in central Greece last week has riveted the country and prompted thousands of calls with leads from around the world.

In a parallel case in Ireland, police took a 7-year-old blonde girl living with a Roma family into care on Monday following suspicions that she was not a blood relative, a senior police source said on Tuesday.

Police took the child from the family in the Tallaght suburb of Dublin after a local person emailed a TV station to express concern that the child was not related to them, the source said.

In the Greek case, DNA tests showed the Roma couple were not Maria's biological parents. They said Maria was given to them by her mother when she was a baby because she could not look after her.

"The Maria case may not be an isolated incident and this could have happened in other parts of the country," a Greek Supreme Court prosecutor's order said.

The Roma couple used false IDs to register four-year-old Maria as their own, saying she was born at home.

The court order told prosecutors across Greece to investigate birth certificates issued since 2008 on the basis of a signed declaration by parents rather than those issued after births recorded at a hospital.

Any cases of false birth certificates found must be investigated further for any evidence tying it to illegal abduction or human trafficking, the order said.

The case of Maria has raised questions about child trafficking in Greece and whether the couple with whom she was found living were part of a wider child kidnapping ring.

Maria is being looked after by a charity while the authorities try to track down her real parents. The 40-year-old woman and 39-year-old man she was found with have been detained pending trial on charges of abducting a minor.

A charity that represents the Roma community in Ireland, Pavee Point, warned that stereotypes in the media coverage of the cases could lead to "witch-hunts against a vulnerable community."

"There is a real danger that precipitative action, undertaken on the basis of appearance, can create the conditions for an increase in racism and discrimination against the Roma community living here," the charity said in a statement.

(This story was corrected to add dropped words "not" in the fifth paragraph and "to" in the ninth paragraph)

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens, Conor Humphries and Sarah O'Connor in Dublin; editing by Barry Moody and Tom Pfeiffer)

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