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Romania Suspected of Adoption Ban Breaches

Bucharest lands in hot water with European Union after evidence of international adoption ban violations emerges.
By Marian Chiriac

When she was picked up from a state-run cradle five years ago, Andreea was a fastidious child, who regarded strangers with a suspicious frown.

Today, as part of a foster family in Otopeni, near the capital Bucharest, she seems the picture of happiness. The little girl smiles constantly, is extremely sociable and spends most of her time at play.

"We love her very much and try to give her a sense of home and normalcy," said Andreea’s foster mother Carmina Rogati.

“She has her own mother and they meet from time to time, but Andreea’s real family is here. The fact that I am not her legal parent simply doesn’t matter.”

Foster homes such as these are becoming increasingly common in Romania following many efforts in recent years to improve the lives of numerous abandoned children.

Millions of US dollars worth of foreign aid has been spent closing large-scale institutions and placing thousand of youngsters in foster care – a system previously unknown to Romanians.

Over the past few years, almost 45,000 children have been placed in foster families or with close relatives, the government says.

But the battle against child poverty and neglect is far from over. Romania still has some 37,000 children in state-run homes - almost half the number four years ago - most of whom have been deserted by their parents.

“Romanians are usually devoted parents but there are still some who prefer to abandon their children, saying they are unable to provide for their families,” said Cristina Liberis, a journalist who specialises in child welfare issues.

Fostering by Romanian parents is seen by the local authorities as main solution to the abandoned children problem. Two years ago, there was a campaign to encourage the process, as under communism neither the state nor the church were prepared to pay people to look after other people’s children.

“Following the campaign and the introduction of some financial incentives, fostering increased by almost 50 per cent,” said Gabriela Coman, head of the National Agency for Child Protection, NACP, adding that 3,756 deserted children were found new homes between 2001 and 2003.

But sources within the NACP, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IWPR that there are far more applications for fostering than there are abandoned children every year - but the government simply ignores them.

Analysts say this is because Romania is currently trapped between the wishes of the European Union – which wants to maintain the current ban on international adoption – and pressure from some other foreign governments which are keen to lift the embargo.

A moratorium on inter-country adoptions was introduced in late 2001 under pressure from the EU, which accused the authorities dealing with abandoned children of corruption. Brussels also wanted to promote local solutions to the problem, warning that international adoption would create a demand-driven industry which might ensure that Romania always had institutionalised children.

The EU therefore asked Bucharest to suspend the practice until corruption had been completely eradicated. It agreed to do so, leaving around 3,500 foreign families stranded in the middle of adoption proceedings.

The government has since come under pressure to lift the ban – chiefly from the United States, with some US senators going so far as to offer the carrot of NATO membership if Romania obliged. Other countries, such as Italy, Israel and France, have also lobbied hard for adoptions to resume.

NACP sources claim that the authorities have bowed to this pressure – and allege they are ignoring many domestic adoption applications, in order to deal with overseas requests deemed “exception” and “pipeline” cases.

As a result, government allowed foreign parents to adopt 1,115 children in the last two years, and a further 1,300 international applications were received in the last few months, according to the sources.

Romania is now in hot water over child adoption, at a time when country’s officials look to complete talks this year on joining the EU.

After admitting last month that 105 children had recently been sent to Italy for adoption, Bucharest now has a lot of explaining to do to the EU at a time when senior officials are discussing Romania’s entry into the union.

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the cases in question were allowed by a special government decision that left no room for corruption.

But Baroness Nicholson - the European parliament’s special representative for Romania - and many of her colleagues have condemned Bucharest for what they believe is a clear violation of the EU-imposed ban, and have asked for the membership negotiation process to be suspended.

The European parliament will make its recommendation at the end of the February, but entry negotiations can only be suspended on the European Commission’s say-so.

Marian Chiriac is a regular IWPR contributor in Bucharest.

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