Bucharest Journal; Little Care and Less Love: Romania's Sad Orphans
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to freeing children from institutions is the official attitude that the parents of a child have paramount rights to the child, no matter how delinquent as parents they may be. A law passed last year was supposed to ease this situation but is not working well, the experts said.
The new law says that if a parent has not visited a child in six months the child can be declared abandoned and become eligible for adoption.
But in reality, Ms. Tucker said, orphanage directors are reluctant to declare children abandoned for fear of losing them and thus the financial allowance the Government gives the orphanage for their care. In other cases, there are no workers available to do the necessary paper work, she said.
In Constanta, a city on the Black Sea coast, babies are being abandoned in great numbers by parents because of increasing poverty, said Dr. Rodica Matusa, a pediatrician in charge of abandoned children infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.
Rather than focus on what appears to be the near impossible -- reforming institutions -- some international groups have concentrated on the best longterm solutions: trying to persuade some Romanian parents to keep their children or others to adopt. More than 3,000 Romanian families adopted children last year.
One of the most stunning successes in the efforts to insure babies a home came this year through the work of the Romanian Orphanage Trust, a British agency, which, like Holt, has placed specially trained social workers in maternity wards. These are the places where indigent mothers most often dump their babies.
When Alexandra Ion was born this year, her 18-year-old mother, Clara, declared that she did not want the child, her first. Mioara Stamescu, a social worker employed by the trust, counseled Adrian Ion, the 28-year-old father, saying that Alexandra was beautiful and healthy and that it would be best for her to be with him, even without his wife, who had fled.
Mr. Ion, a poorly paid factory worker, took the baby to his one-room apartment in the industrial city of Ploesti, 50 miles north of Bucharest, and with the help of a cousin and donations from the trust looked after her.
A few months ago, he took Alexandra to his parents' home in the village of Vilcaresti, where the child is smothered with affection. Mr. Ion feeds her, changes her diapers, plays with her and acts like a model single parent in the West.
"She's my child, it doesn't matter what happens in the world," Mr. Ion said as the baby gurgled happily. "I would have something on my conscience if I didn't look after her. And now I realize what I would have missed if I had abandoned her in the maternity ward."
Recently, Mr. Ion saved enough to buy Alexandra a pair of tiny gold drop earrings. At their next visit to the baby clinic, Mr. Ion said, the pediatrician will pierce her ears for the new ornaments, an outward sign in Romania of a loved child.