Associated Press Archive
February 13, 2004
Author: ALISON MUTLER; Associated Press Writer
Dateline: BUCHAREST, Romania
Senior European Union politicians intervened to push through recent adoptions in Romania even as the EU demanded the country uphold a 2001 ban on them amid charges of baby-selling to foreigners, documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal.
The revelations that leaders as senior as Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, have asked for special favors on adoptions caused an uproar in this country of 22 million. Much is at stake: The EU has demanded that Romania halt all foreign adoptions before it can join.
A former president of the European Parliament, Jose Maria Gil-Robles, acknowledges having lobbied for many adoptions for Spanish families, saying he thought the EU-imposed moratorium was "cruel." He accused the Romanian government of using children as a bargaining chip ahead of negotiations to join NATO and the European Union.
"They allow adoptions in packages," he said. "Forty for the U.S. before NATO, now 105 for Italy."
The United States has opposed the moratorium and has itself pressed the Romanian government to allow adoptions. Prominent U.S. politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, also urged approval for cases, according to a government memorandum.
"Romania can't win, because it is pulled both ways by politicians, whereas the children become political pawns," said Mary Veal, a social worker from Savannah, Ga., who has worked with Romanian children for 10 years.
Romania became a magnet for would-be adopters after the 1989 ouster and execution of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu revealed nearly 100,000 children living in squalor and misery in state orphanages -- the result of his prohibition of abortion and birth control.
An estimated 30,000 children have been adopted by foreigners since 1989, international agencies say.
Corruption has plagued the process, with the Romanian prime minister claiming that some adopters have paid up to $50,000 through Internet-based companies. The money is ostensibly used for paying home-based adoption agencies, adoption brokers, lawyers' fees -- and bribes to local officials.
As Romania's effort to join the 15-nation EU inches forward, human rights activists have grown nervous that the corruption could lead to children being bought and sold. Persuaded by Baroness Emma Nicholson, who monitors Romania for the EU, the organization demanded that Romania impose a temporary adoption ban and clean up its system -- or remain out of the organization.
The ban, imposed in June 2001, left some 3,500 foreign families -- including people from the United States, Israel, Spain and Italy, stuck in the middle of adoption procedures.
Since then about 1,000 international adoptions have been approved, the government admitted in recent weeks. At first, the government said these were permitted because the paperwork for the adoptions was in process when the ban was put into place. Later it admitted that many of the adoptions also were pushed forward after senior European and U.S. officials intervened in individual cases.
Prodi, for example, is listed in a government memorandum as having lobbied for at least two international adoptions after the moratorium was imposed, and more than two dozen before that when it was legal.
Prodi's spokesman, Marco Vignudelli, declined to comment.
Jean-Christophe Filori, the spokesman for Guenter Verheugnen, the EU enlargement commissioner, denied that Prodi had lobbied on behalf of adoptions. Still he conceded: "At some stage he asked for information about children who were in pipeline cases."
Another European Parliament politician, Antonio Di Pietro, is listed in the documents as having lobbied many times in individual cases and at least twice after the moratorium. Jacques Santer, the former prime minister for Luxembourg, lobbied for two adoptions after the moratorium was enacted. There was no response to telephone calls to the offices of Di Pietro and Santer.
The latest furor over Romanian children for foreign adoption emerged in December, when Prime Minister Adrian Nastase admitted that 187 children had been approved for adoption abroad -- 105 of them for Italy.
Once the approvals became known, Verheugen reacted sharply: He said Romania was in danger of failing to meet EU requirements for entry unless the adoptions were halted. Romania hopes to join the EU in 2007.
Nicholson traveled to Romania this week to underline that the EU's position hadn't changed.
"Our job is to make policy -- not to execute it," she said. "I am strongly, wholly and powerfully opposed to politicians interfering with individual child welfare cases."
Trying to patch up relations with the EU, whose money and support the government needs, Nastase said the politicians weren't lobbying for the children per se, but providing "personal guarantees regarding the worthiness of prospective adoptive parents."
Gabriela Coman, who heads the government National Agency for Child Welfare and Adoption said that the documents were an internal memorandum. She said that lobbying had not forced the outcome of any adoption, and the child's best interests had been the overriding factor.
Meanwhile, all of the cases once again are on hold. None of the children approved in recent months for adoption have actually left the country, the government says.
Child welfare advocates argue that the only people being hurt are the children, since they are the ones left to languish in orphanages while the politicians fight it out.
"In the name of God, let the children get into homes," said Sister Mary Rose Christy, a Roman Catholic nun from Burlingame, Calif., who has been working here for 13 years to prevent child abandonment. "This moratorium has gone on for three years... It goes on and on, and these children's lives go on and on. Their chances of having an ordinary life are dying."