04:05 - Source: CNN
Search for mystery blond girl's parents

Story highlights

NEW: The Roma couple charged with abducting a child are remanded into custody

NEW: Video appears to show the girl dancing with the woman now charged

Couple adopted" Maria" with the biological mother's permission, their attorney says

The case plays into old prejudices against Roma, also known as gypsies

CNN  — 

A lawyer for a Roma couple accused of abducting the girl found living with them says the pair adopted the child from her biological mother.

In a case that has generated huge interest in Greece, authorities have charged the couple with abducting the child they call “Maria.” They appeared in court Monday and were remanded into custody pending a trial.

Authorities released photos of the child, possibly 4 or 5 years old, last week and sought public tips on her birth identity.

Kostas Katsavos, one of the couple’s lawyers, told the Reuters news agency that they adopted Maria with the permission of her biological mother.

He conceded that the adoption was “non-legal.” But he said he believes the biological mother will be located soon and will verify the couple’s claims.

“They love her, and they took care as their own child,” Katsavos said.

Haralambos Dimitriou, head of the local Roma community, said the couple took the girl in because her Bulgarian mother couldn’t keep her. He said Maria was raised like a “normal” child.

Video provided by the Roma and shown to the media in the Roma settlement near Larissa does appear to show Maria dancing with a woman who is believed to be the same person now charged with abducting her. The Roma offered the video to demonstrate that Maria was happy and in good care.

1,000 years of Roma discrimination

Police suspicions

Police say they are suspicious of the records the couple provided for the child and for other children in their care. In addition to the abduction charge, the couple are accused of falsifying official documents.

Authorities asked questions about Maria because she has fair skin and blonde hair while her parents have darker complexions typical of Roma, also known as gypsies, a race descended from Indian nomads who face widespread discrimination in Europe.

Thousands of calls poured into Greece after authorities released photos of the girl last week.

Authorities released photos of the two adults Monday, hoping the publicity will reach someone who can provide more information about them.

Child ‘doing much better’

A spokesman for the charity taking care of Maria said Sunday that she is in a group home where “she is doing much better.”

Smile of the Child spokesman Panagiotis Pardalis said the girl was found in “bad living conditions, poor hygiene.”

The child was found Thursday in the Roma community near Larissa in central Greece.

Authorities said the blonde child looked nothing like the man and woman with her, and DNA testing confirmed that they were not her biological parents.

A police statement said the couple “changed repeatedly their story about how they got the child.”

The government news agency said police found suspicious birth and baptism records as well as family registrations that claimed the woman was mother to 10 children and the man was the father of four more.

Marietta Palavra, another attorney representing the couple, said DNA tests will show that five of the children belong to the man claiming to be their father but that there aren’t conclusive results for the others. She would not elaborate.

Europe’s Roma discrimination shame

Prejudice against the Roma

Prejudice and discrimination against the Roma are widespread in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, Amnesty International says.

Maria’s case plays into old prejudices about them stealing children for forced labor.

“The girl is at peace,” Pardalis said. “She is doing much better.”

Greece’s government has promised to help the child. In the meantime, the little girl is being given support by a police psychologist, the police said.

Photo blog: The plight of the Roma

Journalist Elina Labropoulou contributed to this report.