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The Romanian battlefield for children


In many of the discussions I follow on the internet, the Romanian situation keeps returning when talking about banning inter-country adoption. Not so much by those that oppose inter-country adoption as an example of a successful ban, but quite to the contrary, by proponents of inter-country adoption as a failed attempt.

The arguments used by proponents usually take two forms, either they address the abandonment figures, or the situation of disabled children.


Contrary to popular belief, the abandonment situation in Romania has very much improved since the ban on inter-country adoption was instituted. In early 2005 Unicef published a bleak report saying the situation of abandonment had not changed compared to 10, 20 or 30 years ago, a report that was based on figures compiled in a period the moratorium on inter-country adoption had just been instituted.

This report is stuck in people's minds and the lobby to reopen adoptions from Romania gladly wants to maintain that image in order to claim Romania's ban on inter-country adoption was a disaster for the children in that country.

What didn't reach the news were the latest figures on child abandonment, that shows abandonment in maternity centers (the most common form of child abandonment) has dropped from 5,130 cases in 2003 to 1,710 in 2007.

The disabled children

The situation in the so-called camine spitals (homes for disabled children) has always been used as an argument in favour of adoption from Romania, while hardly any of these children were ever adopted. Romania was first and foremost a supplier of babies and younger children. Older severely disabled children are not all that much in want.

In the early 1990's, after the Ceaucescu regime had collapsed, the first images of the deplorable situation disabled children in Romania lived under made the news and it didn't just make the news, it was World News. Already then the emphasis was placed on the terrible situation, while what had already been started up to address the situation was left out in all documentaries at the time.

It was not a time for any good news, it was fund raising time. There was money to be made.

Over the years NGO afer NGO became involved in the "Romanian situation" and with that came the adoption agencies, under the pretense of being a charity. Much of the money donated by people wanting to see the situation improved for those disabled children, eventually was spent not on those disabled children at all, instead Holt Romania, received funding to run a maternity home, which in effect stimulated abandonment of infants.

The situation in the camine spitals was used and abused by several charities, most flagrantly by SERA,  a French charity organization, that, even though they don't do adoptions themselves, has been a huge promoter of Romanian adoptions to this day.

SERA ran an add campaign in France using 8 year old pictures of camine spitals to raise awareness (and money) for the current situation in those homes. At the time much improvement had been made, but SERA didn't want the public to believe or know that, so they used old material and deliberately selected the most horrible ones to use in their campaign.

SERA had no intention to solve the situation. Maintaining a deplorable situation as a cash cow was far too lucrative. Much of the money SERA received was put into renovating camine spitals that were already known to be closed in the near future,. Much of the money they received was spent on moving disabled children from one location to another, while not actually contributing to any improvements.

Thanks to several other investments, many improvements made, but the public opinion is that nothing has been achieved over the years. Often the MDRI report from 2006 resurfaces, which very much sought sensation above truth, again reporting about the deplorable state disabled children were living under. Meanwhile, one of the of the homes they reported about was already closed for months when their report came out.

It is a common theme in the Romanian case, using outdated information in an attempt to prove that their was no progress being made, all because a country had the audacity to say no to having their children removed.

The lobby

Much of the false imagery surrounding Romania comes from a lobby that desperately want to reopen Romania. One of the key figures is Francois de Combret, founder of the already mentioned NGO, SERA and board member of Renault,.

While he is certainly not the only player in the field. I find his actions the most disturbing. Not only that, he is also a very influential man, with high positions in some of the largest French companies and political connections both in the French government and in the European Parliament.

His motivations are unclear to me. For many players in the field I can understand their motivations, even when I am completely opposed to them. The French government wants to reopen Romanian adoption because they are confronted with many citizens (voters) wanting to adopt, while facing long waiting lists, the Members of European Parliament, Cavada and Guibault are representatives of that same same political establishment that is seeking children for parents, while the reverse should be the case.

Even though I despise their motivation, I can understand it. Francois de Combret's motivation is unclear to me. He is not a politician needing votes, he is a wealthy man, not dependent on the money made through "charitable" work, he doesn't run an adoption agency.

Not knowing someone's motivation disturbs me and what disturbs me even more is a photo I found on SERA's website:

It shows three naked Romanian boys in a bath tub. I wonder where this photo was taken. The bathroom certainly looks not like one to be found in a Romanian orphanage. I also wonder who took this photo.

The lobbies workings

By now it is clear that Romania is not going to change its policies regarding inter-country adoption. Both the situation of disabled and non-disabled children has improved considerably over the last 10 years, thanks to major investments made through Europe's Phare funds. Many camine spitals have been closed. Romania has a foster-care system, something they didn't have in the early 1990's. Most of the casa de copii (children's homes) have been transformed from large institutions to smaller group homes and a system of domestic adoption has been instituted.

Since Romania doesn't seem to budge, the lobby is now trying to force Romania to do so by introducing European legislation to have an open market for European adoption.

This new adoption system, which has major support from France and Italy, would guarantee European countries access to children throughout the European Union, including those in Romania. If this European law is accepted, Romania, as a member of the European Union, will have to comply with those regulations and open their borders for the export of children within the Europe.

For France and Italy much is to be gained. First of all access to Romanian children and on top of that, no competition from the USA. Both in France and in Italy strong sentiments live among prospective adopters that they can't compete with Americans in the international adoption market. So by introducing a European market for adoption, the American competition can be eliminated and the European countries can divide the pie, consisting of young, white children, after all the most valuable goods available on the adoption market.

by Niels on Friday, 01 August 2008