ITALY NEWS

Affection or abduction?

Foster parents refuse to relinquish Belarussian child
(issue no. 40/2006 / September 21, 2006)
A tug-of-war involving a ten-year-old Belarussian child risks degenerating into a diplomatic spat between Italy and Belarus. The child, an or-phan who has been given the cover name Maria, was due to return to Belarus a week ago after spending the summer with temporary Italian foster parents. But the parents are refusing to hand Maria back after she revealed she had been sexually abused by other children in her orphanage back home. The Italian couple, Maria and Alessandro Giusti, from Cogoleto (near Genoa), have taken Maria to a secret hiding place and are defying threats of arrest on kidnapping charges in their determination to prevent the child being sent back to Belarus.

Belarussian Ambassador to Italy Alexei Skripko insisted that Maria return to Belarus. He promised that the girl would not be sent back to the same orphanage but would be transferred to a special centre in the capital of Minsk, where her condition would be assessed and she could re-ceive any necessary physical and psychological assistance. He stressed that the Giustis were breaking the law. This child has been abducted, the ambassador said.

A Genoa juvenile court has ordered the Giustis to hand back Maria but the couple told reporters on Wednesday: The child has been subject to terrible violence in her home country and has threatened to kill herself if she is sent back. The Italian State has to deal with this case. Our Consti-tution guarantees peoples right to life, health and physical well being.

Justice Undersecretary Daniela Melchiorre stressed that the case was a very delicate one, adding, We wouldnt want it to have a negative impact on the many Italian families who are waiting to adopt Belarussian children. Family Policy Minister Rosy Bindi said some 550 adoption appli-cations were currently under way between Belarus and Italy.

Every winter and summer, thousands of Belarussian children travel to Italy to stay with temporary foster parents in a programme first launched after the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in neighbouring Ukraine.

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