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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 12:58 GMT
Moldova's kids get old before their time
By Maia Metaxa
BBC Romanian Service

Children in Cainari talk to the BBC
One in three children in Cainari have at least one parent absent
One in nine children in the Republic of Moldova - about 100,000 - grow up without at least one of their parents, who go abroad to work.

At least 30,000 of these children grow up without either of their parents.

In a school in Cainari, 50km (35 miles) south of the capital Chisinau, the head teacher looks through the register and counts a total of 84 children who have been left without either parent.

While some live with their relatives, there are a few that have been left completely alone.

Cainari is typical of Moldova's rural villages, where poverty and a lack of jobs have pushed many parents to leave for work abroad, in order to provide for their children.

Maria, aged 14, is one of the children in this situation.

"My father has been away for nine years and my mother has been gone for one year," she says.

"Daddy is in Greece. My Mum was there too, but she couldn't find a good job, so she went to Italy."

Missing childhood

Although Maria is sometimes visited by her aunt and uncle, they only come every two weeks and then they leave.

In the meantime, Maria has to take care of the house - after attending school.

Maria
I'm alone, and anything might happen
Maria, Cainari
"We have a plot of land, we have a cow, pigs and chicken," she says.

"In the autumn there is a lot of work to do in the yard, on top of my homework. In winter I have to light the fire, and sometimes my granddad comes to help. I try not to stay alone during the winter."

In the kitchen, Maria is preparing lunch for her father, Mihai, who is just back from Greece on one of his rare visits. He speaks with obvious pride about his daughter.

"She milks the cow, takes it to the communal herd, feeds the chicken, takes care of the house, goes to school - she does everything," he says.

Mihai is typical for many parents in the Moldovan countryside. He works in a hotel in Greece and sends home whatever money he can save.

"In 20 days I made 800 euros and I sent this money home straight away," he says.

"The girls got a computer with it. And whatever I send goes on food and accommodation.

"My older daughter is studying in Chisinau - she's a student. And she always needs money for her rent, for her books - for all the things a student needs, all the things a person needs."

Vulnerable

In total, remittance makes up more than a quarter of Moldova's Gross Domestic Product, according to the World Bank.

That explains how people survive in a country where the official figure for the monthly average wage is just US $120.

Maria's father Mihai
Maria's father Mihai moved to Greece to get a better-paid job
But although Mihai provides Maria and his other daughter with money, what he cannot provide is parental guidance. And this is not without its dangers.

"These children are more vulnerable, psychologically and socially," says psychologist Zina Bolea.

"They can be more easily manipulated and abused - sometimes sexually - and they don't know where to apply for help when in need."

Dr Bolea adds that one of the consequences for these children is an early transformation into adults.

"The older brothers and sisters become carers - they take over the roles of mothers and fathers," she says.

"This leads to them maturing too quickly - and this is a forced process. Emotionally and psychologically they are not ready for it and this often leads to trauma."

Alone and scared

In many developed countries, such as Britain, parents who leave their children unsupervised risk being prosecuted.

Moldova has legislation regarding guardianship, and parents who leave to work abroad should tell the authorities so that children can be placed under the care of a person or an institution.

Villagers in Cainari
The village of Cainari is severely poverty-stricken
But most parents either forget or simply do not want to enter a formal guardianship agreement.

"Many parents don't formalise a guardianship arrangement because they are in a hurry or simply don't know what they have to do in such situations," explains Radu Danii, from Unicef Moldova.

"They shouldn't use this as an excuse. There are, however, cases when this is done deliberately and then the authorities must step in and apply measures which can extend to the removal of parental rights from the individuals involved."

In practice, there are not many cases when parents are penalised - and the Moldovan state is too poor to take custody of all these children.

But for Maria, who has both parents abroad, these statistics are meaningless.

"I'm alone, and anything might happen," she says.

"You hear so many stories.

"I do get scared from time to time about what might happen at night. I lock the door and fall asleep with my cuddly toys."


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