[This piece appeared June 30 in TOL.]
One family of Kalderash Roma speaks out against the custom of early marriage.
TARGU JIU, Romania | Raluca Larisa Mihai got married two years ago. As a seventh-grader. She was just 13 years old.
But it was no fairy tale for Raluca, a tradition-minded Kalderash Rom. Here in provincial Romania, hers is one of the most respected families in the Kalderash enclave of Meteor, a neighborhood on the edge of Targu Jiu.
Which is why the tragedy that’s engulfed her family reverberates across Romania – even to Brussels. Raluca today wears the headscarf of a widow; on this day, a vibrant purple.
‘VICTIMS OF TRADITION’
Her ex-husband isn’t dead, though. Raluca accuses the boy she wed in a Pentecostal ceremony of raping her during their 2008 engagement. He was only 15 at the time. According to her family, he’d learned of another Romani tradition: if he stole her virginity, Raluca would be duty-bound to follow through with the marriage. Two girls had already broken it off with the boy – allegedly because of his violence.
He calculated wisely, then. Despite the rape of their daughter, her parents went ahead with the wedding. If they had backed out, they say they would have been “dishonored” before all of Meteor. After all, Raluca was deflowered.
“From the very first moment that he took advantage of her, I knew I would have rather seen my house set on fire,” says her mother, Bianca.
There is no greater badge of honor for Kalderash parents like these than to deliver their daughter to marriage – as a virtuous virgin. This pressure, though, has consequences. It helps drive the centuries-old tradition of early-teen marriage, a ritual that Brussels criticized well before Romania joined the European Union in 2007. Parents simply want to rid themselves of this burden as soon as possible.