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Romania's Unwanted Children

The burden of Romania's communist past weighs most heavily on its children. An estimated 91,000 live in orphanages or children's home today - 20% more than in 1989. Eight thousand of these orphans or abandoned youngsters are less than three years old.

Tentative steps have been made by Constantinescu's reformist government to overhaul Romania's childcare system and tackle the enormous problem of family poverty - the main factor behind the rising number of children in state institutions. Child benefits were increased from US$1.50 to US$7 a month in early 1997, and paid maternity leave extended from three month to two years. A new child adoption law placing adoption procedures in the hands of an authorized agency has also been enforced in a bid to crack down on illegal adoptions and baby trafficking to the west.

The situation remains die though. The government's harsh 1997 economic reforms - vital for the country's future economic growth - have provoked further short-term unemployment and poverty. Some 36% of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line an approximately 20,000 of the 300,000 babies born each year are abandoned. In April 1997 a 36-year-old mother abandoned her 14th baby. Three of her children are a legacy of Ceausescu's ban on contraception and abortion in 1966 coupled with his ruling that women under 45 have at least 5 children.

Since communism's collapse the appalling conditions in Romania's orphanages have improved slightly, thanks to the assistance of international aid organizations. The flood of individual 'mercy missions' that swamped Romania in the early 1990s has since receded, aid to Romania being handled by a focused network of larger organizations which are committed to working alongside local non- government organizations and aid groups as part of a long-term solution to help Romanians help themselves.

Since 1990 foreigners have been able to adopt Romanian orphans. An average 1500 children are adopted by foreigners each year although the Romanian Adoption Agency says that at least 10,000 children have been illegally sold to westerners. In November 1994 a British couple were given a suspended 18 month jail sentence fore trying to smuggle a 1ix-month-old baby (which they'd brought for US$6000) out of Romania. In March 1997 four men were charged with illegally selling 48 children to Italian families.

Romania's abortion rate remains among the highest in Europe (2.12 for every live birth), despite contraceptives being available to those who can afford them. New-born babies weigh an average 200g less than those born in western Europe and have a 10% greater chance of dying in the first 12 months of their life. Romania have the second-highest infant mortality rate in Europe.

Source: Romania & Moldova, 1998 (Pg 66)