When they closed the Romanian “baby shops”

 Informal translation.  Original article :    Cuando cerraron los “baby shops” de Rumania

When they closed the Romanian “baby shops”
“There have been moments when we took more into account the interests of the parents then those of the children”
“The Irene Foundation, the Romanian associate of the Spanish agency ADECOP, was the best in manoeuvering bribery”
“As the US managed to get exceptions to the moratorium on international adoptions in Romania, we wanted an equitable treatment”
 
PICTURE EXPLANATION: On their way to the US, two Romanian kids adopted by US couples in June 2001, just before the European country suspended – as demanded by the EU – sending children abroad. (AP /Vadim Ghirda)
“Mr Delegate, I would like to highlight and make clear - even I am aware that not everybody would like to hear this – that – given he choice between the protection of a Romanian child and the desire of parents coming from countries where [international] adoption became fashionable - we will always favour the first one”, was the answer of the German Commissioner for Enlargement at that time, Günter Verheugen, to a questioned asked on 12 March 2002 by the Spanish MEP José María Gil Robles during a Parliamentary Session of the Community institution.
 In an interview for the German public TV, Verheugen would describe later that period as one of the most difficult of his political career. Because of the serious accusations of illegal practices and minor trafficking, the Commission forced Romania to suspend international adoptions if it wanted to be part of the group of Eastern European countries wanting to accede to the EU in the years to come. 1.200 Spanish families hoped to be able to adopt a Romanian child when Bucharest stopped sending children abroad: 1.200 families who had spent already important amounts of money, so that agencies like ADECOP could start proceedings and who suddenly felt frustrated.
The Commissioner for Enlargement named Spain when he referred to countries in which adoption had become fashionable, but this was the case he had in mind. In one decade, Spain passed from being a country in which adoption was barely an issue to being at to the fourth place among the countries worldwide who received adopted children – after the United States, France and Italy-, a position it presently still holds.
“I have to recognise that, maybe not in all cases, but there was something fashionable about this. We, Spaniards, are like this: when we are interested in something, we become unstoppable”, says today Javier Álvarez Osorio, general coordinator of CORA, an association representing a good share of the Spanish adoptive parents. In October 2001, only three months after the interruption of the adoption of Romanian children, CORA sent a letter to the President of the Spanish Government,  at that time José María Aznar, to several Ministers and to the Spanish MEP José María Gil Robles asking them to intervene in favour of the families who « volunteered to adopt a Romanian child»
“In that period, our organisation was one year old. We grew up a lot since then, we changed in many respects. There have been moments when we took the interests of the parents more into account then those of the children. Now we are doing our best so that the interest of the child primes always”, tells Álvarez, “and undoubtedly, if today the Commission would present us with reports concerning irregularities in some country we would favour the suspension of the adoptions, in the same way that we have asked to stop the arrival of Ethiopian children because it is obviously a matter of adoptions fuelled by poverty. If children are not adopted from Ethiopia it is not because their parents or relatives do not want them, but because they lack resources to take care of them and this cannot be accepted.”
 
Picture explanation: Some of the Romanian villages are among the poorest of Europe (AP /Cipriani)
 
International adoptions were initiated at the end of the '60s, in order to find a solution for the orphans that long and devastating conflicts like the war in Vietnam had generated. Nowadays, they are, often, a profitable business which benefits to some agencies. Couples moved by the desire to become parents are frequently ready to make the required financial effort and forget occasionally some basic moral principles: this could be the only explanation that catalogues presenting « Romanian children to choose » - like the one that Gunther Verheugen said he had seen himself-, or the Romanian orphanages which offered the foreign visitors the possibility to choose from their children- as described by Javier Sampedro in an article published by El País in 1996-, did not give raise to generalised suspicion.
The NGOs are clear about this: if the idea is to do some good for the poor children, the 10.000 to 30.000 euros that an international adoption may cost would be better invested in programmes that would allow these children to grow up in their countries of origin, helping their biological parents to feed them or give them access to education, and programmes that are beneficial to everybody and do not cut the link. “We use to tell those who consult us: ‘there are children in the Third World lacking of many things, but precisely the only thing they do no lack is a family’”, says Álvarez.
However, not everybody has changed the perspective as CORA did. The ADECOP agency considers currently that Ethiopia is a country which offers good guarantees for adoption, and José María Gil Robles still believes that his reiterated requests that Romania accepts to give children away to Spanish couples were justified, even if this would mean covering kidnapping, selling children and deceiving the biological parents.
“The parents did not want those little ones”, says Gil Robles, “the suspension of adoptions had a political motivation: the President of Romania told me on several occasions that he did not want that the children go abroad because he needed them to take the country out of poverty”, an argument that organisations like Save the Children still use: children are the future of the country which, between adoptions and AIDS, are left without future.



Picture explanation – A Child in a Romanian orphanage in November 2002. The NGOs denounce that the autorities did not make the same efforts to find national adoptive families as ther did to find foreign adoptive families who, as a general rule, paid more. (AP /Vadim Ghirda)

In the Parliamentary sessoion held on 12 March 2002, Gil Robles asked Günter Verheugen what measures the European institution envisaged in order to find a solution for the Romanian adoptions and in order to « protect the rights » of «Community families» who « have already spent high amounts of money ». The political pressure was due to the fact that the United States which associated the requests of adoptive parents in the negotiatins for Romania's accession to NATO and managed this way to get exceptions to the moratorium, “and we were asking for an equal treatment”, remembers Gil Robles.
“These are not adoptions; it is clearly a matter of illegal trafficking of children”, assured Antonio Ortiz, Spanish Ambassador to Bucharest when Javier Sampedro wrote his article. The special BBC correspondent called the Romanian orphanages“baby shops”, in a documentary that the British channel partly recorded with hidden camera.
“Prove me that at least one of the adoptions that we have been dealing with in Romania is illegal”, says an ADECOP member who hangs up without leaving the opportunity to ask his name. Roelie Post, director of the NGO Against Child Trafficking, laughs: “of course the adoptions were apparently legal: in order to get the required stamp it sufficed to pay the judge the correspondent « commission ». And the Irene Foundation, the Romanian associate of ADECOP, was the best in manoeuvring bribery”.
Ileana Bustea, the lady behind the Irene Foundation, got soon in the attention of the authorities, who accused her of a series of crimes: bribery, intimidations, buying and selling of children. However, her organisation was undoubtedly legally created, following the principles of the The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption of 1993, Romania being one of the first countries to sign this Convention.
“Here you have the children. Have fun, recounts Roelie Post in her book, Romania For export only, it is what her predecessor told her when she started working for Commissioner Verheugen. Post was working in the European Commission since 1983, which made that this Dutch woman was one of the veterans. It is only accidentally that she got to be working on the issue of children trafficking. “In the beginning everybody was pleased with my work. ‘Great, Roelie, how interesting’, they used to tell me. Afterwards, Romania put an end to international adoption and by then my work was not considered that wonderful anymore.”
At the end of 2004, Verheugen changed Enlargement for vice-presidency of the Commission and soon afterwards Post found herself facing the consequences of having dug so in-depth into certain issues: there were intimidations at first then finally, removal from the Community institution. Today, she continues to work from a different tribune, “but the Commission is still paying my salary. I am a civil servant and, as I did not do anything wrong, they cannot dismiss me”, she explains, “my situation is a strange case, unique, undoubtedly”.
From:     Roelie
To:          Mariela
Date:       Saturday 30 June 2001 11:10
Subject:   Breakfast Children Forum
 
I had an interesting breakfast discussion with my daughter Anne-Catherine and two of her girlfriends. The girls were saying parents must have sex to have children (they found it as all children unbelievable parents did this). One girl said sex was not always necessary, as parents could also adopt a child from another country.
 
I asked the girls first to imagine they were children of very poor parents in a far away country with a different culture and language, where they had many brothers and sisters. Then to imagine if they would like to be adopted by rich, loving people, who would be able to give them a very good life. I provided the girls with basic facts, careful not to influence them.
 
Their first reaction was they very much would like to be adopted. But then the discussion went on, and they wholeheartedly decided nothing was more important than being with your own family. They asked if they couldn’t bring the whole family to those richer people. I explained rich countries don’t want poor people of other countries, but only their children to love and care for.
 
They asked why their poor family would give them up for adoption. I explained parents/mothers might consider that to be in their best interest and also a lot of money would be involved (not necessarily for their parents though). They asked if their opinion would be asked, I told them ‘not if you are younger than ten years old’. Being nine, they were outraged about this.
 
They said the rich people should give money to poor families so they could take better care of their own children.
 
So this was the outcome of a mini Dutch Child Forum at its Saturday Breakfast Summit.
 
Roelie
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