Five months ago, Gerghina and Alexandru Florea gave their 8-year-old son a gift they could not afford for their other nine children -- a hopeful future.

The Floreas consented to Vasile's adoption by a couple from Lincoln, Neb., to save him from life in a state institution where he had lived since birth
because the family couldn't afford to bring him home. Another Florea son, 2- year-old Marian, remains institutionalized for the same reason.

"I'm not happy about it," Mrs. Florea, 35, said as she nursed a 2-month- old son. "But what could we do?"

Romania's late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, overthrown and executed in the 1989 revolution, tried to increase the population of 23 million by banning birth control and abortion.

His legacy, even though birth control and abortion have since been legalized, is limited sex education and crushing poverty that pushes some parents to give up their children for adoption -- legally in hopes of a better future, or illegally for money.

After a baby market free-for-all following the revolution, in which an estimated 10,000 Romanian children were adopted by foreigners, the government cracked down in 1991.

But with an estimated 90,000 infants still living in state institutions and an average monthly household income of $80, the baby trade hasn't stopped.

A British couple, Adrian and Bernadette Mooney of Woking, England, go on trial Friday in Bucharest on charges of attempted illegal adoption and human smuggling for allegedly trying to take out 5-month-old Monica Baiaram in July.

After the Mooneys' arrest July 6, prosecutors said they could expect up to five years in prison if convicted.

The baby's 17-year-old parents and three others are charged with taking $6,000 for the child, who is now in an orphanage in Bucharest.

"There is a substantial amount of child traffic and there are a number of people who have a vested interest in continuing it," said Donald McCready, chief executive of The Romanian Orphanage Trust, a British organization that promotes social services and care inside Romania.

"Some of the institutions we work with resist efforts to reunite families because it interferes with the lucrative international adoption," McCready added, referring to employees of state institutions who often receive money or gifts for arranging even legal adoptions.

A loophole in the 1991 law allows children to bypass the Committee for Adoption, the government agency dealing with international adoptions, and be adopted with only the approval of local authorities.

In 1993, there were 891 international adoptions, of which 391 were handled through local courts. So far this year, there have been 1,250 international adoptions, 850 of them handled locally and legally. There are no figures on the number of illegal adoptions.

Tales of kickbacks to corrupt judges or lawyers and payments to birth parents from baby dealers are frequently heard at legitimate adoption agencies or Western embassies.

"A lawyer goes to the birth family and gets the child set up for adoption," explained Rebecca Tucker of Holt International, a U.S. child welfare agency that arranges adoptions through the government. "The parents get anything from a couple of thousand dollars to a pair of earrings."

Would-be adoptive parents often don't have to look farther than the street outside Bucharest's Court of Justice, where baby dealers offer infants to foreigners for a few thousand dollars.

The Holt agency helped link Vasile up with his American parents, an adoption for which the Floreas received no money or gifts.

The family's consolation was that Vasile will have a better chance in life than the eight children who share the one-bedroom, mud floor hut that lacks indoor plumbing in this southern Romanian village.

"If we had only had three or four children we would have probably never given up our child for adoption," said Florea, who earns the equivalent of $120 a month as a foreman in the local oil fields.

Mrs. Florea, who cannot read and understands nothing of birth control, wants no more children.

"I just want the girls to get married and the boys to go into the army," she said in resignation.

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