In 1989, the world watched in horror as images emerged from Romania of more than 100,000 underfed, neglected children living in hundreds of squalid and inhumane institutions throughout that country. Six weeks after the end of the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, I and members of my staff visited Romania where we witnessed first hand the misery and suffering of children. They were the littlest victims of Ceausescu’s policies which undermined the family and fostered the belief that children were often better cared for in an institution than by their families.
American citizens responded to this humanitarian crisis with an outpouring of compassion. For years now, Americans have opened their hearts, their checkbooks and have committed their vacation days offering their own labor to help Romania improve conditions in these institutions. Many families also opened their hearts to one or more of these children through adoption. Between 1990 and 2004, 8,213 Romanian children found permanent families in the United States; thousands of others joined families in Western Europe.
The legacies of Ceausescu’s rule continue to haunt Romania and, when coupled with widespread poverty, have led to the continued abandonment of Romania children. According to a March 2005 report by UNICEF, “child abandonment in 2003 and 2004 [in Romania] was no different from that occurring 10, 20, or 30 years ago.” UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children a year are abandoned in Romania’s maternity wards or pediatric hospitals. According to the European Union, 37,000 children remain in institutions. Nearly 49,000 more live in non-permanent settings in “foster care” or with extended families. An unknown number of children live on the streets.
As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Romanian Government agreed in the 1990 Copenhagen Document that it would “accord particular attention to the recognition of the rights of the child, his civil rights and his individual freedoms, his economic, social and cultural rights, and his right to special protection against all forms of violence and exploitation.” Romania agreed further to “recognize in their domestic legislation the rights of the child as affirmed in the international agreements to which they are Parties.” Romania is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Our distinguished witnesses will provide their analyses of whether Romania is fulfilling its commitments under these conventions.
Sadly, the corruption which has plagued Romania’s economy and governance also seeped into the adoption system. The corruption needed to be rooted out, but using corruption as the hook, the question of Romania’s institutionalized children came under the scrutiny of an avowed foe of intercountry adoption—Baroness Emma Nicholson. As a Member of the European Parliament, who until recently served as rapporteur for Romania's accession to the European Union, Lady Nicholson proudly asserts that she has “led the fight against the trade in children, known as Inter-Country Adoption.” Lady Nicholson has stated, “it was a mistake from the beginning to assume that for a child, a foreign adoptive family is better than the family which can not care for him. This is totally false.” Lady Nicholson has no facts to support her allegations as to the dire fate of children adopted internationally and, indeed, her allegations have been refuted by UNICEF.
Lady Nicholson's position as rapporteur allowed her to pressure the Romanian Government into declaring a moratorium on international adoptions in 2001 and, in June 2004, to enact a law banning inter-country adoption except in the case of biological grandparents living outside the country. Romania’s new law on adoptions, and another addressing child protection, create a hierarchy of placement for abandoned children including domestic adoption, foster care and institutionalization. This law is based upon the misguided proposition that a foster family, or even an institution, is preferable to an adoptive family outside the child's country of birth. Sadly, since few more than 1,000 Romanian children are domestically adopted each year, the remaining 8,000 abandoned yearly have been sentenced to a life in foster care, usually in large group homes, or in institutions. Denial of a permanent family will fall hardest on the Roma children who are least likely to be adopted in-country due to pervasive societal prejudice against the Roma minority.
Prior to enactment of the anti-adoption law, approximately 1700 adoption cases were registered with the Romanian Government; of these, 200 children had been matched with adoptive parents in the United States and the remainder with parents in Western Europe. Dozens of these waiting parents are in this hearing room today. They have come from across the United States to let President Basescu know that they are still waiting to adopt their children.
Many other prospective adoptive parents have contacted the Helsinki Commission. One couple, Peter and Julia Heisey, are Americans who live in Timisoara, Romania. They have cared for a little girl in their home since 2001—when she was 10 days old. The baby’s biological mother was not able to keep her and the biological mother's stepfather threatened to throw the baby out into the street. The Heiseys began the process of adopting this child years ago, they have jumped through every bureaucratic hoop, including several months of officials from the Child Protection Service trying to get the birth-mother to visit the child in their home, only to finally acknowledge that she had no interest in caring for the child. This child has been in the Heisey’s home for virtually all of the first four years of her life and knows no other parents. The Heiseys are devoted to her, want her to be their daughter forever, and are now told that because of the new law on adoption, this will never be.
The Tolleson family from Arkansas also wrote to us about an 11-year-old girl named Andrea that they have been trying to adopt for five years. They talk to Andrea every Saturday. As any loving parent would do, they send letters and packages to her, and she sends them drawings that they display in their home. They have traveled to Romania twice to be with her. Andrea spent the first four years of her life in the “maternal hospital” where she was abandoned at birth. When she was four, the government sent her back to her biological family who for a month left her alone in the dark in their shanty house, without adequate food and attention,. Eventually, near death, Andrea was then taken back to the hospital. At age 5, she was moved into her current orphanage.
This hearing asks the question: how can it possibly be in the best interest of these children to deny them the chance to grow up in families who love them so much? Within the next week I will introduce a resolution in Congress calling on Romania to process these pipeline cases and reverse its anti-adoption law. Who in the European Union will stand with Members of Congress to protect these defenseless children? All children deserve better than to spend their lives in group homes or warehoused in institutions where their physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being is critically endangered. It is indeed tragic if the price of admission to the European Union is the sacrifice of thousands of Romania’s children.