He succeeded where Emma Nicholson and the police failed: A Roma priest put an end to marriages between Roma children

By • on November 19, 2010

The Roma of the Ramnicelu village, located in the Buzau County, became famous because they used to marry their children at early ages. The girls have stopped getting married while still in childhood and have begun attending school, after a priest has converted 80% of the Roma people to the Pentecostal faith. According to Emma Nicholson, a member of the European Parliament, the local authorities and the police have also tried to solve this problem last years but have failed. The Roma priest has succeeded in solving this problem only with God’s word. There have been no marriages last year between Roma children in Ramnicelu. Furthermore, a few weddings have been cancelled and the parents have decided to take the girls home and send them to school again. Also, for the first time in the history of this village a Roma girl attended high school.

The Ramnicelu village has around 4460 residents, out of which 1800 are Roma whose main occupation is selling of vegetables. Two years ago, the France Press news agency wrote about the marriage of a five-year old girl with a 16 year-old boy from this community. This case has elicited an angry reaction from European child protection NGOs, according to Emma Nicholson. “This scandal has frightened us. We all said this is too much and that’s why we came back to God”, says Stefan Vasile, one of the locals, who 11 years ago has married his underage son, Ionel, to an eight year old girl.  “My wife was in first grade. She attended school for two weeks and afterwards we got married. After we discovered God’s word, I realized that what I did was wrong. Nowadays, my entire family has converted to the Pentecostal religion and my daughter will only get married once she’s 18 and not 8”, says Ionel.

Group baptism

Last month, one hundred fifty Roma were baptized as Pentecostals. Relatives of Vasile, including grandparents, children and grandchildren, were among them. All dressed in white, they prayed inside the church and then went to be baptized. Since 2008, more than 80% of the Roma community in Ramnicelu has converted to this religion and has given up early marriages. The girls in the community have been which caused a sharp decrease in the rate of school abandon. This noteworthy change is the accomplishment of the Roma priest Grigore Vasile, a 38 year-old father of seven children, and a pillar of the community. “We gathered in his house to hear him talking about God. At first we were just a few, but now we are many”, said Stefan Vasile. The priest Grigore said that the future of this community is connected to stopping early marriages and encouraging children to get an education. “We want to stop these marriages and to encourage children to attend school. As a success story in this respect, my daughter is attending the best high school in Ramnicu Sarat and I hope that she will attend university as well”, said the priest.

“God’s will stopped this awful habit”

It was the Bible’s teachings forbidding marriages between children that have changed the mentality of Roma believers. “None of the authorities could put an end to this habit. The change is due to God’s will. Nowadays we have 16-17 year-old who don’t think about marriage at all”, says Vasile Dumitrache, a Roma believer. After his baptism, Vasile cancelled the marriage of his 16 year-old grandchild to a little girl aged 10. “It would have been a bad deed for everyone. That child doesn’t know what marriage means, what duties she will have. It would have been unnatural”, explained Vasile Dumitrache.

The conversion to the Pentecostal religion has reduced school abandon among girls

Mr. Marian Dumitrache, a school mediator, claims that one of the consequences of marriages between children was a high rate of school abandon among girls. “If the girls married at early ages, they wouldn’t attend school because their husbands would be jealous”, the school mediator explained. Things have changed radically in the mean time. “Since the large number of conversions to Pentecostal faith, the school attendance of Roma increased, accompanied by a decrease in school abandon, especially among girls”. Fifth to eight grade girls didn’t drop out of school anymore, said Alexandru Enache, the principal of the Elementary School no. 1 in Ramnicelu.
The little girl who married when she was 10 returned to school

At the Elementary School no. 2 in Ramnicelu, 98% of students are Roma . Mariana V., one of the pupils, is only 10 years, but she has already experienced a marriage. “How did you get married?” “My parents made an agreement with his parents…I lived with my husband for more than one month”, said Mariana V. The girl stopped attending school at that time, when she lived with her husband, then, after her parents converted to Pentecostalism, they took her home, cancelled the marriage and sent her to school again. Now, Mariana says that she loves mathematics and that she wants to attend high school. Until then, she attends church regularly and she intends not to marry again until she turns 18.
The priest’s daughter, the only student who reached high school

Mrs. Gina Vasile, the daughter of the priest, is the first girl from Ramnicelu who reached highschool. “I was very ambicious. With God’s help, I succeeded in getting all my exams with very high grade – 9,86”, says Gina. Being asked about here opinion on her community problem (the marriages between children) she answerd firmly: “I have never agree with this habit. The children’s freedom is taken, especially among girls, which are obliged by their parents to get married”.

Being a mother at 11

“In 2007, a girl 11 years and 8 months old has given birth in the hospital. We had been having many births of this kind from Roma girls from Ramnicelu, but she was the youngest mother so far. Being very young, this girl’s pelvic bones were underdeveloped; consequently, the doctors had to do a C-section.  All the children have been healthy and haven’t had any problems. We haven’t had such cases lately”, says dr. Lucretia Dediulescu, the manager of the Ramnicu Sarat Hospital.

„Religious proselytizing”

The representatives of Ortodox Church in the Buzau county claim that the changes taking place in the Roma community in Ramnicelu are the result proselytizing. “I am not going to comment on the conversion of those believers to Pentecostalism. It is a delicate subject. I consider it proselytizing”, said the priest Adrian Ionescu, the spokesman of the Ortodox Church in the Buzau county. He also doesn’t believe that marriage ceremonies have been performed in the Church for early marriages, because a priest can’t perform a wedding ceremony without an official paper from the City Hall.