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Romania: U.S. Senators Call On Bucharest To Drop Adoption Ban

Politicians in the United States have called on the Romanian government to lift a two-year-old moratorium on international adoptions enacted at the request of the European Union. Romania has stepped up efforts to improve its child-care and adoption legislation in order to boost its EU membership chances. But many American families who want to adopt Romanian orphans have seen their adoption cases blocked by the ban. Bucharest says the moratorium will be lifted once the parliament votes on a new child-care bill now in legislative debate.

Prague, 18 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A delegation of U.S. senators this week asked Romania not to renew a ban on international adoptions due to expire on 1 June.

The moratorium was imposed in 2001 after the European Union criticized Romania for its treatment of institutionalized children and alleged that national officials might be involved in child trafficking. Brussels said Romania, an EU candidate, would need to show marked improvement in its care of orphans and the adoption system before it could join the bloc.

Bucharest issued the ban in order to rewrite its child-care legislation. But the moratorium has drawn complaints from an estimated 3,500 families abroad -- many from the United States -- that are seeking to adopt Romanian children.

Many U.S. families, whose adoption cases were being processed when the moratorium was imposed, have been lobbying politicians in Washington to push for a resumption in Romanian adoptions.

Senators Mary Landrieu (Democrat-Louisiana) and Larry Craig (Republican-Idaho) recently discussed the issue in Bucharest with President Ion Iliescu and government officials in charge of child care.

Landrieu and Craig are co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, a bipartisan and bicameral alliance of 132 members of Congress dedicated to improving adoption policy and practice.

Senator Landrieu told a news conference on 15 April in Bucharest that the ban is preventing many institutionalized children from finding a home with a caring family.

"We think that the moratorium is not fair to children. Because what happens is, it limits their opportunities. We hope that there could be many children who are abandoned or who are in need of a home [who could] find a home in Romania. But I don't think there's any country that can adopt all of its children [who need to be adopted]. So we want to leave opportunities for children to find a place somewhere [else] in the world," Landrieu said.

The plight of Romania's tens of thousands of abandoned children -- a legacy of the demographic policies of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu -- caused worldwide shock after the fall of communism.

Although conditions are slowly 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 1990, with U.S. families alone having adopted more than 1,500 Romanian children over the past several years.

Romania, together with Bulgaria, has missed the first wave of EU enlargement, due in 2004. It is struggling to fulfill membership criteria that would allow it to join in 2007.

The EU says improving child-care institutions locally is a better option than international adoptions, which it says were insufficiently regulated in Romania. It's a situation that has left Bucharest struggling to meet EU child-care norms while seeking to resolve mounting complaints from U.S. citizens whose adoption cases have been put on hold.

The Romanian government has said the moratorium will be lifted once the parliament votes on a new package of child-care and adoption laws.

Government Secretary-General Serban Mihailescu is in charge of the adoption and child-care policies. He says the package -- which contains four draft laws -- has been finalized and will be debated by legislators in an emergency session.

Mihailescu said international adoptions were stopped in 2001 because of what he called an "international market," worth nearly $100 million, selling Romanian children via the Internet.

Mihailescu, who discussed the new laws with senators Landrieu and Craig, said Romanian authorities are expecting the U.S. officials to provide their own proposals and observations regarding the laws.

The new legislation demanded by the EU provides for stricter rules on foreign adoptions, which are to be permitted only if no Romanian citizens are willing to adopt the child.

Furthermore, it reportedly sets up an 18-month mandatory residency period in Romania for the prospective foreign adopters.

In an attempt to stifle corruption, the new measures also scrap some fees related to adoption.

But the legislation is also reportedly scrapping the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as intermediaries in international adoptions. This stipulation has caused an uproar among Romanian NGOs, which say their involvement in the adoption process is crucial.

Renate Weber, one of Romania's most prominent human rights activists and head of the Foundation for an Open Society NGO, tells RFE/RL: "I believe it is a mistake not to involve those who effectively worked within the NGOs involved in adoptions over the past years. Because a ministry bureaucrat sees things in a certain way, while NGOs which have been effectively involved in the adoptions system see things differently. I think that such organizations do know the reality better and could be of more help in setting up the necessary measures."

The involvement of NGOs in the adoption process is also favored by Senator Craig, who said they are "an important and necessary tool." But Craig told a news conference in Bucharest that NGOs must be certified and monitored to avoid corruption.

"What is very important in doing so is you create a very transparent process and that you certify these NGOs and that they are monitored on a regular basis to avoid any corruption or any sense of that happening. They are to be facilitators in bringing the child and the prospective family together and to work with institutions of government on both sides to complete that process. So I do believe it is important. I think it expedites. I think it has an opportunity to move because you have an aggressive advocate in this instance in the process, and you don't have one government speaking to another, which sometimes can be most encumbering, if not difficult," Craig said.

Mihailescu says the Romanian parliament will most likely adopt the new legislation in the next few weeks, allowing international adoptions to resume.

The EU reaction to Bucharest's announced intention to lift the ban was cautious. The head of the European Commission delegation in Romania, Jonathan Scheele, said on 17 April that the moratorium should not be scrapped before Romania acquires the administrative capacity to enforce the new legislation.

(RFE/RL's Romanian Service contributed to this report.)