Italy and Bulgaria Embroiled in Controversy over Lost Girl Saga
By Violina Hristova
The case of a lost and found Bulgarian girl has stirred controversy in both her native country and in Italy, her present home.
Plamena, 11, was allegedly thought dead by her parents for a decade, before they found her, malnourished and sick, in a state-run home for mentally disabled children in a Bulgarian village.
The family is now in the midst of an argument with the Bulgarian authorities. In Italy, where they live, the case was presented as child trafficking by Plamena's parents. In Bulgaria, however, the authorities say the parents have perpetrated a fraud.
The girl, who is blind and unable to walk and speak, has spent most of her life in Bulgarian orphanages. Her parents say they found her thanks to the director of the Kosharitsa home, where Plamena lived together with abandoned and mentally disabled children.
In June 2009, the family took their daughter to the small Calabrian village of Ciro Marina, where they had moved years ago with their two other children.
Plamena was born prematurely and with reported disabilities in Yambol, a Bulgarian town. Her parents, Plamen Matakev and Veselinka Ilieva, say they had been told that the baby had died shortly after birth.
Mr Matakev, who works as a fisherman, told Italian media of his suspicions that his daughter had been put on the black market for child trafficking, but had ended up in an orphanage due to her physical disabilities.
"Plamena was born two months early and weighed just 1.5 kg. She was immediately placed in an incubator. After several days a hospital representative told us the baby had died and we should not go there anymore," Mr Matakev told Bulgarian daily 24 Chasa.
The mother, Ms Ilieva, never received a death certificate. Hospital officials allegedly told her that prematurely born children, who had died before they were 15 days old, were treated as abortion cases.
Officials from the "St. Panteleimon" Hospital in Yambol tell a different story. According to them, Ms Ilieva had signed a declaration consenting to put Plamena up for adoption immediately after her birth.
Ms Ilieva admits that last year she was shown this declaration in Yambol, but argues her signature had been faked. Tanya Dimitrova, a public notary who had certified the authenticity of the declaration at the time, also confirmed its existence and said the document had been filed in her register. "I believe the mother wants to hide something," she told 24 Chasa.
Shortly after her birth, Plamena was sent to an abandoned children facility in her native Yambol, where she lived for eight years before she was moved to the institution for disabled children in the village of Kosharitsa. The home's management confirmed the girl had been living there for two years, although they did not have the original proof of her mother's consent for adoption.
Plamena's parents deny having given up their parental rights in a written declaration. They say they have never seen such a document bearing their authentic signatures.
Mr Matakev is threatening to sue the Bulgarian state for fraud.
In Italy, the family of Plamena will receive two pensions to raise her – one for the child, and the other for a caretaker. The Bulgarian authorities have dismissed the parents' story.
Plamena's health appears to have been neglected during her ten years in state-run homes. Her vision could have been saved, medics say. Retinal transplantation is now the only solution to restore the child's vision.
Upon her arrival to Italy, Plamena, ten years old then, weighed 15 kg and was unable to walk. In just several months, she gained almost 10 kg, and is learning to walk with orthopaedic shoes, which she has had for the first time in her life.