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Romania: Adoption Issue May Cloud NATO Plans

The poor condition of Romanian orphanages and the unregulated environment surrounding the many international adoptions has been a dark spot on Romania's reputation. The European Union has made the problem an issue in accession talks -- and even pressed Romania to temporarily ban foreign adoptions. Reports now indicate Romania's NATO aspirations could be affected. U.S. families -- eager to adopt Romanian children but prohibited by the moratorium from doing so -- are lobbying politicians in Washington to make the adoption issue a NATO issue.

Prague, 15 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The poor state of Romania's orphanages and child-care institutions -- and the relatively high number of foreign adoptions -- have long been a point of embarrassment for the country.

European Union officials have made the problem an issue in Romania's bid to join the EU and -- for the past year -- have pressed the country to suspend all foreign adoptions.

Now, criticism is coming from another direction that could slow Romania's entry into the NATO military alliance.

The "Financial Times" on 6 April reported on the existence of a note from U.S. officials to the European Commission telling the commission that Romania must resume the international adoptions. The note, allegedly written by U.S. officials in Brussels, said if the moratorium continues, it could prompt "questions" into Romania's NATO bid by members of the U.S. Congress.

The report said the adoptions ban caused concern in the U.S., given the large number of American families seeking to adopt Romanian children.

The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest this week denied that Washington tied lifting the adoption moratorium to Romania's NATO bid. The embassy would not comment on the existence of the note or its contents.

Romanian government spokesman Claudiu Lucaci says, however, that Romania has included the adoption issue among its priority measures for NATO admission. He says the situation of Romania's institutionalized children was discussed during Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's visit to the U.S. in 2001.

"This is a sensitive issue in America, and issues concerning the situation of Romania's institutionalized children and international adoptions were raised in talks between U.S. officials and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase during his U.S. visit last year," Lucaci says. "But there were no explicit references to international adoption cases. Furthermore, this issue is not new and Romanian officials do not discuss it only with the U.S. administration. This issue has been mentioned even in Romania's priority measures program for NATO admission."

Romania's tens of thousands of abandoned children are a legacy of the policies of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who banned abortion in the country. After the fall of communism, a shocked world saw images of abandoned children -- some infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

Although the situation is improving, more than 60,000 children still live in state orphanages, while some 30,000 have been placed with foster parents.

Almost 20,000 children have been adopted by foreigners since the fall of communism. U.S. families alone over the past two years adopted more than 1,500 Romanian children. But since the ban came into force in June, an estimated 3,500 international adoption cases -- which were in the pipeline at the time -- have been blocked.

David Livianu is president of the Foundation for American Assistance for Romania (FAAR) -- a non-profit organization that deals with adoptions of Romanian children. Livianu, a Romanian-born U.S. citizen, represents many American families whose adoption cases have been frozen.

Livianu tells RFE/RL that U.S. adopters are worried because the ban is delaying the adoption of older children, who could not be integrated into Romanian families.

"The idea is not to create a market for international adoption against the benefit of the children or against the interests of their countries of origin - Romania, in this case. There is an extraordinarily high number of [U.S.] families who helped Romanian kids from 1990 until now, and U.S. families are now worried, of course, by the orphans' current situation, especially older kids, between 5-12 years old, who cannot be reintegrated into [Romanian] families and who [U.S. citizens] want to help by offering them a good family which can give them a better life," Livianu says.

The government in Bucharest says it favors reintegrating institutionalized children into Romanian society and regards international adoptions as a last-resort measure.

Spokesman Lucaci tells RFE/RL that some $7 million was allotted this year alone to that purpose. Lucaci says the government is working on a legislative package to regulate the situation of institutionalized children.

"The government is preparing a package of laws by September. Approximately eight laws are to be completed by the end of summer or the beginning of fall. There is a very accurate calendar for these measures to come into force. At the same time, the Romanian government is holding talks with the European Commission and the European Parliament rapporteur for Romania, Mrs. Nicholson, as well as the U.S. administration so that this very sensitive issue is resolved in favor of the [institutionalized] children," Livianu says.

The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest says the U.S. encourages Romania's efforts. But the embassy notes there were several hundred families whose adoption cases were in the pipeline when the moratorium came into force.

Romania's government has said it will review the cases which began prior to the adoption moratorium.

Livianu says Romania is caught in the middle: "Unfortunately, [international adoption] is an extremely politicized issue, and the EU vision somehow differs from the U.S. vision on international adoption, in parallel with maternal assistance or foster care, as it is called here in the U.S. Such divergent perspectives are catching Romania in the middle -- which is being pulled either in one direction or the other by such different ways of tackling the problem of children in need."

A draft report on the situation of Romania's institutionalized children has added to the controversy. The report, issued in April by a group of independent experts and due to be presented this week in Brussels, recommends a one-year extension of the moratorium.

It says that since the ban came into force in June, the number of domestic adoptions by Romanian families has grown considerably.

But critics say the overall adoption rate is now very slow compared to the number of institutionalized children -- more than 80,000. They argue that maintaining the moratorium on international adoptions will deny many children their basic right to have a family.