Romania bans adoptions in other countries

16 June 2004

Romania has banned the adoption of its children by families in other countries, except in very limited circumstances.

The vote by MPs to approve the bill passed by the upper house two months ago bows to the EU's demand that the lucrative trade in children should be stamped out, and defies pressure from the US for regulated foreign adoption.

The ban, which will take effect at the beginning of next year, replaces a moratorium on foreign adoptions imposed three years ago but widely ignored.

The US ambassador, Michael Guest, has been crusading for months to have the moratorium rescinded.

US Congress members have been piling on the pressure, US lobby groups have been seeking to influence the government, and would-be adoptive parents in the US have been advertising in the Romanian press, pleading to be granted the opportunity to adopt Romanian children.

On the other side, the Liberal Democrat MEP Lady Emma Nicholson has long been campaigning to outlaw foreign adoption in Romania, a children-for-cash trade which she has described as kidnapping.

Yesterday's vote was an unusual victory for Brussels over Washington in a poor east European country usually keen to do Washington's bidding.

Children's charities working in Romania say the new law is too harsh and restrictive and will not in any case end the organised criminal rackets making millions from sending Romanian children abroad.

The law allows Romanian orphans to be be adopted abroad only by their grandparents, and only after a search for Romanian adoptive parents has failed.

That means, in effect, that foreign adoption is outlawed.

There are estimated to be about 50,000 children in orphanages in Romania, and almost as many have been adopted abroad in the past 15 years.

The overthrow of the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu - who banned birth control and abortion - at Christmas 1989 exposed the hellish conditions and the huge numbers of children in Romanian orphanages.

It prompted a worldwide wave of pity and revulsion, but also an unscrupulous trade in children, who were sold abroad for up to £30,000.

The new law prescribes a seven-year jail term for parents selling a child abroad.

Although officially the European commission has been leaning hard on Bucharest to get the ban adopted, individual EU countries have been keen to see the adoptions continue, particularly Italy, as has Romano Prodi, the Italian commission president.

Reputable charities and NGOs have placed thousands of children with desperate western couples.

But in addition to the criminal trafficking, the adoptions have entrenched corruption in the judiciary, the courts and child welfare agencies.