Fostered child case strains Italy, Belarus relations

Deutsche Presse Agentur

Rome- Italian police have launched a nation-wide search for a 10-year-old Belarus girl who has been hidden by her Italian foster parents to prevent her from suffering further abuse in her country of origin, state television Rai reported Wednesday. The case has stirred strong emotions in Italy and risks straining relations between Rome and authorities in Minsk, who are now threatening to block adoptions of Belarus children by Italians unless Maria is allowed to return home.

Maria is one of some 25,000 Belarus child victims of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster who spend "therapeutic" holidays in Italy each year as part of a solidarity program initiated in 1993.

An orphan, she was taken into the care of foster parents upon her arrival in Cogoleto, a small town near Genova, three years ago. Doctors later discovered that she had been mistreated and subjected to sexual abuses during her stay in an orphanage in Belarus.

In June, Maria allegedly attempted to drown herself in the sea and told her foster parents she'd rather die than return home.

When a minor's tribunal in nearby Genova ruled that the girl should go back to Belarus after receiving assurances from local authorities that she would not be mistreated again, her parents decided to hide her.

Police were actively searching for the girl while fellow residents in Cogoleto planned to hold a torchlight procession in support of the family on Thursday.

The case has prompted the Italian government to intervene amid warnings from Minsk that it may block the adoption of Belarus children by Italians unless a solution is found.