From Hungary to America, and Back
International Herald Tribune
Peter S. Green
When they left the state children's home here in 1996, 7-year-old Gabor and 8-year-old Karoly were looking forward to a bright future as the newly adopted sons of two American couples in the wealthy suburbs of Connecticut.
In March, the boys, their names now officially Gabriel Petrosino and Jeremy Harper and their language now English, found themselves back in Hungary, delivered with little ado to the doorstep of Budapest' s main orphanage, each with two bags of clothing and toys, and a lifetime of emotional scars.
Their adoptive parents had simply had enough. They said the boys were children from hell, violent and emotionally disturbed. Unwilling and unable to fit in, they were destroying the lives of their adoptive families.
Adoptions are not meant to be dissolved like mistaken marriages, and under a United Nations treaty protecting children, they cannot be. But legal loopholes in both Hungary and the United States, neither of which has signed the treaty, means that canceling the two boys' adoptions was no more difficult than an average divorce.
The two boys are now back in foster care, but Hungarian officials say the case has revealed the dark side of Hungary's adoption system, which does not properly prepare or screen prospective parents and which they suspect is riddled with bribery, corruption and even baby- selling schemes.
Two lawyers for the parents said that the parents spirited the boys back to Hungary and asked that their adoptions be annulled days before child welfare authorities in Connecticut were to remove one boy from his family. The lawyers said Gabor falsely accused his parents of abuse because he wanted to be sent back to Hungary.
But Hungarian officials said that returning the two, like a pair of faulty video games, was a cruel shock, and that new homes should have been found for them in America.
All that the parents said when they left the boys at the entrance to the Budapest children's home was "bye," reported the parents' Hungarian lawyer, Istvan Fekete.
"I was a bit shocked myself," Mr. Fekete said. "I know they lived together for two years." But he said the boys were also outwardly unemotional about being returned.
"I said, 'Do you know your families don't want you?' They both said, 'O.K.' There was no sadness," he recalled.
"Now, adoption seems to be a commercial transaction," said Maria Herczog, director of Hungary's National Institute of Family and Children. "Parents can choose children and bring them home, and if they don' t like them they can bring them back."
And that, Mrs. Herczog said, is devastating for the children. "They have to learn for the second or third time that they are not wanted, " she said. "They learn they are not good enough for anyone, to be loved. And when they grow up, can you see what good fathers they will be?"
Hungarian authorities are waging a court battle against annulling Gabor and Karoly's adoptions, fearing a tide of unhappy foreign parents will simply return their problematic adoptive children.
The parents' American lawyer, Sheri Paige, said the boys were so emotionally damaged before they reached Connecticut that their adoptive parents had to send them back or risk destroying their own families.
Mrs. Paige said both boys suffer from "attachment disorder," the effect of spending infancy without the emotional attachment to a mother.
Mrs. Paige said that neither the home nor the adoption agent, a Connecticut lawyer named Maria Tomasky, told her clients the boys had a history of abuse.
"What Maria and the orphanage didn't tell my clients is that he had a 15-year-old Gypsy prostitute, drug-addict mother who'd come every week into the orphanage and sleep right next to him and then come back," Mrs. Paige said, referring to Gabor.
"When he learned English, the first thing he says is 'I don't wanna be adopted, I have a mother and a sister. I love my mother and my sister. I want to go back to Hungary."'
Gabor, she said, was so unhappy in the exclusive Connecticut town of Wilton that he attacked his English tutor and was so disruptive that his school insisted his adoptive mother monitor him throughout the day.
Karoly, she said, behaved even worse toward his adoptive family. ' 'The kid arrives in America and starts to make sexual passes at their 12-year-old son," Mrs. Paige said. "The kid is getting violent to the baby. And he's defecating in the middle of the living room floor and he's beating up black kids because they are darker than him."
But the real trouble began, Mrs. Paige said, when Gabor told teachers his adoptive parents beat and abused him. Karoly made similar accusations. Authorities investigated repeatedly but found no signs of abuse, Mrs. Paige said. They found only that Gabor and Karoly wanted to return to Hungary.
Fearing that their own children could be taken away from them if the boys kept making their accusations, Gabor's parents, the Petrosinos, brought him to Hungary at Mrs. Paige's urging, she said. The day they delivered their adopted son to the Budapest orphanage, Mrs. Paige said she told the Harper family to come to Budapest. Two days later, Karoly was returned to the orphanage.
MEETING Karoly with his new foster mother Aranka Varadi, he hardly seemed the devil's spawn. He played normally with two other Gypsy, or Roma, boys in Mrs. Varadi's care. Alternately shy and a little wild, he seemed like any healthy 10-year-old.
Magdolna Nagy, director of the Eger children's home, said that Mrs. Paige's descriptions, which the parents repeated at a Hungarian hearing, hardly matched the boys she knew. Instead, she said the families were simply trying to shift the blame for failure.
"It's clear he needed a lot more attention from the family and should not have been put right into school," Miss Nagy said of Gabor. While his adoptive parents had hired tutors and counselors and contacted a Hungarian-speaking priest, Miss Nagy said one thing was clear: ' 'It seems everyone tried to help the kid, except the parents themselves.' '
When Gabor and Karoly returned they were in shock for months, she said.
Like many former Communist states, Hungary's understaffed and underequipped orphanages were filled with unwanted children when the Iron Curtain fell. But most are not orphans. Instead, they are often troublesome children of poverty-stricken parents from Hungary's large Roma minority.
Many childless Western parents, desperate to adopt light-skinned babies, found them in Eastern Europe. But often they did not know that the children were available only because they were handicapped or so badly abused that they could not find parents in their home countries.
Both Mrs. Herczog and Mrs. Paige said they suspected bribery may have played a part in Gabor and Karoly's adoptions and may explain why the parents never learned the boys were troubled.
But Mrs. Herczog said that whatever the circumstances, returning the boys to Hungary was wrong.
"I'm not sure that these new parents can cope, and after another break, it's over, and these kids won't be able to attach at all," Mrs. Herczog said. "It's a very scary thing. They'll trust no one.' '