Belarusian orphan sent home despite Italian couple's efforts

The Associated Press

ROME A 10-year-old girl who said she was sexually, physically and mentally abused at an orphanage in her native Belarus has been sent back to the ex-Soviet republic from Italy, despite an Italian couple's efforts to keep her, officials said Saturday.

"The girl is serene. When she left she was serene, smiling," Belarusian Ambassador Aleksei Skripko told reporters. "She arrived last night in Belarus, and was very tranquil."

He said the decision to repatriate the child, who had been spending the summer with a couple from the northern city of Genoa, was made by juvenile court judges on the advice of psychologists who met with the child.

"They asked us to immediately repatriate the girl so as not to cause her any further psychological damage," Skripko said.

Lt. Col. Andrea Guglielmi, with the Genoa Carabinieri police, said the girl was accompanied by an Italian child psychiatrist and two psychologists - one Italian and one Belarusian - who will stay with her to "observe" her for the first few days.

Belarusian state TV said the girl would be taken to Bobruisk, 150 kilometers (95 miles) southeast of the capital, Minsk, and put in a family-style children's home. The three such homes in Bobruisk and the children's shelter there could not confirm she had arrived.

"Shame, you should be ashamed," a visibly upset Alessandro Giusto, the Genoa man who had tried to keep the girl, told reporters gathered at the airport Friday night. "She's a 10-year-old girl who was the victim of violence for two years, who has threatened to commit suicide. What kind of a democracy are we, if we can't defend a 10-year-old girl?"

The girl, identified by her first name, Vika, spent the summer in Italy. Many children from Belarusian orphanages do this as part of volunteer efforts to give youngsters good food, sunshine and recreation during vacations from school.

But she claimed she was severely abused at the orphanage, and Giovanni Ricco, a lawyer representing the Giustos, said a medical examination in Italy confirmed the abuse.

Alessandro and Chiara Giusto refused to return the girl when her holiday was over and hid her for two weeks, refusing to comply with a court order to send Vika back to Belarus.

Last week, Belarus issued a formal protest to Italian authorities, who had been trying to find the girl for days.

Italian police found her on Wednesday in Valle D'Aosta, a tiny region in northwestern Italy, where she was staying with the mothers of the Giusto couple.

Guglielmi, of the Carabinieri police, said the court ruling ordering Vika's repatriation was being appealed.

Nearly 60,000 Belarusian children go abroad every year for health-related rest or treatment or vacations; 25,000 go to Italy, according to official statistics.