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Romania: Many Romanian Children Still Being Abandoned

London, 26 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The head of a British charity which helps Romanian orphans says parents are abandoning as many children today as in the Ceausescu years because families are so poverty-stricken they cannot afford to feed and clothe them.

"It's an appalling fact that as many children are being abandoned now as before the revolution six years ago," said Don McCready, chief executive officer of the Romanian Orphanage Trust in London.

"The reason is simple: sheer, grinding poverty. Families living on the bread line still face the choice of either having food and clothes or keeping their children at home," he said.

The London-based Trust was set up in 1990 to relieve the suffering of thousands of unwanted children left by their parents to languish in state orphanages. It is funded by donations from Britons who were shocked by television film of the grim institutional conditions.

Romania's orphan crisis (140,000 children in state homes in 1991) is a legacy of the Ceausescu policy of effectively banning contraception and abortion and pressuring women to have at least five children.

Since many parents could not afford to feed their children, they had no choice but to place them in orphanages. Many of the children ended up in institutions for the mentally handicapped when, in fact, they were merely under-stimulated and suffering from their stays in the orphanages.

The trust says that, although parents are still abandoning children at an undiminished rate, the treatment of orphans has greatly improved. The trust works to try to keep children with their families wherever possible, or to find them loving environments in foster homes.

The British charity works closely with its sister body, Pentru Copiii Nostri, (For our Children), Romania's largest independent charity, employing 300 staff and actively fund-raising within Romania.

In the first days after the fall of Ceausescu, when starving children were dying, the British charity was able to support about half of all orphanages by sending in nurses, food, medicine and clothing. Since then it has developed longer-term solutions.

It worked closely with Romanian authorities to reform the national child care system and helped develop Romania's first foster parent scheme; set up teams of professionals to safeguard adoptions; and built houses where children damaged by orphanage life could receive care.

Chief executive McCready now hopes that the end of the orphanage system will be in sight by the year 2000. A step towards this goal came last month when an orphanage in Bacau agreed to close down as an orphanage and reopen with a range of support services for families.

The British charity welcomed a vote by the Romanian parliament in June that enables the 40 regional authorities to apply for government funding to run community-based services to support families.

McCready said the law confirms that the Romanian Government is determined to take better care of its children and is finally rejecting its old institutional care system. "The scene is now set for our ultimate goal, the closure of the orphanages," he said.