If she goes back, she'll be abused'

FOR the past four years, the 10-year-old girl spent three weeks each summer with an Italian family.

Then on 8 Sep, just as she was due to return to her 'home' - an orphanage in Belarus - the family whisked away the girl to a secret hiding place.

Her case has divided Italy and strained relations between the two countries - with Belarus complaining formally about what it called a 'deliberate abduction'.

Her summer foster parents, Mr Alessandro Giusto and Ms Chiara Bornacin, suspected that the girl, named only as Vika, was being sexually abused in the orphanage.

Defying a Genoa court order for the girl to be sent back, the couple told the police they would rather go to jail than send her back to the orphanage.

'We are desperate, I can't even stand on my feet,' said Mr Giusto.

But Italian police found Vika on Wednesday.


The Italian couple said their suspicion was aroused when they saw her tying up her Barbie dolls and making them kiss each other.

They said she told them it was a 'game' played at the orphanage.

They said psychological tests confirmed their fears that she had been sexually abused, possibly by older children.

Mr Giusto told Ansa news agency that he and his wife want to adopt the girl after police found the girl in a village in northern Italy with the couple's parents.

Earlier this week, the couple gave police a video in which the girl reportedly said she wanted to stay in Italy.

But the Belarussian ambassador to Italy said on Wednesday Vika would be repatriated as soon as doctors found her fit for travel.

His government in Minsk has asked Rome for her 'immediate and unconditional return'.

The envoy did not clarify whether she would be sent to the same orphanage, which has dismissed the abuse charges as 'a fantasy invented by an Italian family that wants to have a child'.

She is one of about 60,000 Belarus children who have treatment and holidays abroad under a programme for children with long-term consequences of the Chernobyl disaster 20 years ago.

The director of Vika's orphanage in Vileika, north of Minsk, said last week that the girl was 'a good, happy, healthy child'.

The government of Belarus - an ex-Soviet republic - has announced a moratorium on sending children to Italy pending her return. - Reuters.