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Romanian rethink

April 26, 2011

Many Romanian children found new homes in the west before instances of child trafficking led to a ban on international adoption. With claims that many children have lost out as a result, some are calling for a rethink.

Chilrden painting eggs in a kitchen
Conditions have gradually improved in Romania's state institutionsImage: AP

When Romania's Communist autocracy was toppled from power more than two decades ago, the plight of the children living under state care in the country shocked the world.

Television scenes of children left bereft of any form of love or attention proved heartbreaking and many western families were keen to adopt.

Baroness Emma Nicholson
Baroness Nicholson claims there were many examples of trafficking and abuseImage: DW/Wilson

While those intentions were good, the system was also shown to have been exploited by child trafficking groups. As conditions in children's homes generally began to improve, the practice of international adoption from Romania came under a moratorium in 2001.

Legislation to cement the ban in law was put into place following pressure from the EU. Former member of the European Parliament, Baroness Emma Nicholson was a key figure in pushing for this as a special rapporteur for Romania's EU accession.

"I unveiled a huge network of global corruption and global trafficking," said Nicholson. "We really uncovered horrors of a scale and dimension you would wish never to know about."

The handing over of a 500 euro note
Corruption remains a central theme in the debateImage: picture-alliance/dpa

'Children missing out'

However, there are those - such as the Romanian campaign group Catharsis - that believe an outright moratorium was an overreaction. The group is a leading a campaign to resume international adoptions and cites numerous cases where children have missed out on loving homes as a result of the ban.

Madalina grew up in a children's home from the age of two, where she suffered serious abuse. Catharsis found Madalina an adoptive family in Italy, to whom she herself said she became very attached. Unfortunately, the timing was wrong. Mandalina was a victim of the moratorium on international adoptions and the move was blocked.

Madalina, sitting on a bench alone
Madalina lost out on her chance of a new home in ItalyImage: DW/Wilson

"They asked if I'd like to be adopted by them, and I said yes," said Mandalina. "Only, then we found out that international adoptions had been blocked. It felt terrible for all of us."

A life on the streets, or worse

Once the children leave full-time education, those who have not been adopted often end up in homeless shelters - such as Marius.

"It's a shame they stopped international adoptions," said Marius. "There are many, many kids in children's homes and they have no future. Most of them either die of hunger on the streets or they're in prison."

Azota Popescu from Catharsis argues that it is time to change the law, as the issue comes up for debate in the Romanian parliament. She denies the claim by Baroness Nicholson, and organizations such as the group Against Child Trafficking, that corruption is too rife in Romania for the system to be trusted to prevent trafficking.

"There is no corruption in Romania in the domain of adoptions," Popescu told Deutsche Welle. "If Emma Nicholson has an example of corruption, she should show us, to present it to everyone."

However, Baroness Nicholson and anti-trafficking organizations such as ACT claim there is no shortage of examples. Accoring to Transparency International, corruption is on the rise Romania and activists say now is not the time to allow traffickers easier access to young children.

"I'll give you the example of a poor Romanian boy, who was trafficked to London, on a false passport. From London they changed his passport again and he was trafficked to America, on a false passport," Nicholson said.

"Uncovering that (trafficking) ring, uncovered one of the biggest pedophile rings in the globe. That boy has never been seen again."

Author: Tom Wilson, Brasov, Romania / rc
Editor: Rob Turner