The Italian Almanac

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Maria and Alessandro Giusti

Italian News - September 15

A tug-of-war involving a 10-year-old Belarussian child risked degenerating on Thursday into a diplomatic spat between Italy and Belarus. The child, an orphan 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. They now want to adopt Maria.

Belarussian Ambassador to Italy Alexei Skripko insisted on Thursday 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 receive any necessary physical and psychological assistance.

He stressed that the Giustis were breaking the law. "This child has been abducted," the ambassador said, adding that "the longer it takes for her to be released, the greater becomes our concern for her health". He also obliquely suggested that the annual temporary adoption programme of which Maria was part could be jeopardised by the Giustis' actions.

Every winter and summer, thousands of Belarussian children travel to Italy to stay with temporary foster parents in a programme which was first launched after the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in neighbouring Ukraine. Skripko denied press reports that the Belarussian authorities had already blocked the programme. But he said that Belarus had decided on a "pause" while the Maria case was being dealt with.