Posts Tagged ‘orphans’

The root of the problem

It’s probably time for a history lesson on Romania. In fact, it’s probably time for several. So why not start from the beginning?

Once upon a time there was a communist dictator named Nicolae Ceausescu. In 1966, one year after he took control of Romania, he made abortion and birth control illegal. He thought by boosting Romania’s population he would be strengthening the nation. [Check out Chapter 4 in Steve Levitt’s Freakonomics for a very interesting take on the effects of the ban.]

Needless to say, the Romanian birth rate doubled a year after the ban was introduced and an enormous amount of children were born into conditions of national destitution. So mothers opted to abandon their children at birth. According to an article in The Guardian, “By the time the Ceausescus were put before a firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989 there were around 100,000 children in appalling conditions in the country’s orphanages.”

That is when the international media descended on Romania and horrid tales of children tied to beds and left without food made the country infamous.

Increase in adoptions

As a result, aid sent to Romania increased, and the ’90s saw a surge in adoptions. But as adoptions became increasingly popular in Romania, they also became increasingly more profitable. Arranging adoptions turned into a corrupt child-trafficking service that experts say hindered the development of social services and child protection policies.

Responding to the criticism of foreign nations (especially the European Union, which Romania was eager to join), the Romanian government temporarily halted all adoptions in 2001. The adoption law was altered and made permanent in 2004. The ban was occasionally eased to allow grandparents and siblings in foreign countries to adopt the children and in some cases foreign families.

The government said the pause gave it time to reform the adoption system in response to EU criticism. Romania entered the EU on Jan. 1, 2007 but has not lifted its ban on international adoption.

Several western European countries and the United States have lobbied against the ban, and the fate of Romania’s abandoned children has become an issue of global interest (hence our interest).

Get the story straight

Media coverage over the past 20 years has been interestingly inconsistent. Articles like that in The Guardian in December 2005 praised Romanian efforts to clean up their act. And packages like that featured on ABC News’ Nightline in May 2006 highlight the government’s failures, especially in reference to the orphanages assigned to handicapped children.

Judy Broom, president of HUG, says the ABC package left the Romanian government and state caregivers skeptical of American media. According to Judy, the report did not accurately capture the conditions of the Braila handicapped children’s orphanages (Judy has traveled to Braila on nearly all of her 54 service trips because HUG sponsors children in a handicapped orphanage in Braila).

HUG was founded by Judy in 1990 and she has been working in Romania from the beginning (read a profile I wrote about Judy and HUG’s birth and struggles). She has traveled to Romania two to three times a year for nearly the past 20 years. She’s seen things change. She knows what’s stayed the same. And she’s going to show us (and in turn, we’re going to show you).

And so there you have it. A little bit of background on a very complex story and a little bit of insight on what we plan to report. More to come.


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Lindsey and I are working so hard trying to get ready for this. She says the trip has consumed her already. She’s talking about cell phones and SIM cards to use when we’re there. She’s thinking about things to pack and equipment

One of the children in July 2006 at the handicapped orphanage HUG helps sponsor located in Braila, Romania. Photo courtesy of HUG.

One of the children in July 2006 at the handicapped orphanage HUG helps sponsor located in Braila, Romania. Photo courtesy of HUG.

we’ll need.

I have a secret, though. We’re nowhere near ready. And there is no way we’ll ever be.

That statement is somewhat misleading (and since our families are hopefully reading this–I promise we’re getting our shots and practicing how to say ‘Help!’ in Romanian).

But I’m talking preparation for the bigger picture. I’m talking about seeing two-year-olds barely clothed and in dirty diapers. I’m talking about seeing orphanages with cribs lining every bare wall. I’m talking about the challenge of grasping the reality of the nation’s current situation, understanding the context, getting the anecdotes and most importantly capturing all of that on paper.

I love being a reporter. But it’s a pretty difficult job.

Looking back at my journal from my trip two years ago, I notice that I wrote a lot about wishing I could do something more permanent than provide diapers or play with the children. I think this trip provides me with that opportunity. I just hope that I’m prepared to ask the right questions and observe the right details. And I hope I maintain an open mind while I’m there. I don’t know the story, yet. And I can’t assume I do. I’m looking to report it.

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As Lindsey and I speak to more people about our plans, it becomes clearer that a lot of people seem to have some sort of connection to Romania. Somebody’s neighbor adopted a Romanian. Somebody’s best friend is in the Peace Corp in Romania. Somebody’s mother is Romanian. Whatever the connection–we want to know. So please post a comment and tell us what you know about Romania, who you know in Romania, or if you want us to bring you back a Romanian baby (kidding on the last part, of course.)

Lindsey and I are trying our best to be as prepared as possible, so please share your words of wisdom.

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