Romania to ban international adoptions permanently (Robak runs the campaign with European PAPs/protest march Brussels/EP?)

15 June 2004

Romania to ban international adoptions permanently

By Noelle Knox, USA TODAY

The Romanian government passed a controversial law Tuesday that will forbid foreigners from adopting any of the country's 84,000 orphans.

The vote had been delayed for more than a month because the United States led a full-court press to block the legislation. But in the end, Romania bowed to pressure from the European Union and agreed that the only way to end rampant corruption in the system was to end international adoption.

"We are stopping corruption in the child-care system and trying to rebuild the whole system as a modern one," said Alin Teodorescu, head of the chancellery for the prime minister.

Romania has maintained a temporary ban on international adoptions since 2001. The new law not only makes that ban permanent, but it also closes the loopholes for children with disabilities or children older than 3.

Now, only biological grandparents living in another country will be able to adopt Romanian orphans, and then only if no relative or Romanian family will adopt the child.

Americans have adopted almost 8,300 Romanian children since the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Pictures of thousands of underfed and abused children in the country's prison-style orphanages sparked worldwide outrage and a huge demand for international adoption.

Since then, the government has been working to tear down the old orphanages and place more children in foster families. The country also has launched educational campaigns to encourage Romanian families to adopt and to teach women not to abandon their babies. The results have been positive, but Romania still has almost 2% of its children in state care or foster care.

The communist system that created the orphanages also created an enduring culture in which corruption seemed embedded in the struggle to survive or get ahead. Despite democratic elections, new government institutions have been rapidly infected by the same corrupt patterns. And although the work of many adoption agencies is noble and above-board, international adoptions have not been exempt from corruption.

The average international adoption costs about $15,000, more than twice what the average Romanian earns in a year.

Soon, the accounts of rescued orphans were replaced by stories of Romanian mothers being paid to give up their children or of teenage boys and girls "adopted" into prostitution.

After the temporary ban took effect, hundreds of families in the USA and around the world formed networks, wrote letters, called embassies and flew to Romania to lobby government officials. And many weren't ready to give up Tuesday.

"I've been up since 5 this morning," said Linda Robak, who adopted a Romanian girl three years ago. "We've got phone calls into the State Department while we're strategizing in the back room."

She was sending e-mails to about 175 U.S. families, plus groups in Spain, France, Italy, Ireland and Switzerland.

"The next step is planning a protest march in Brussels in late September," she said, when the new parliament is seated in the European Union. Romania hopes to join the European Union in 2007.

Romanian President Ion Iliescu has said he would sign the law, and that should happen any day.