What lessons can we learn from the plight of the Romanian orphans?
When President Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989, the world was shocked by the terrible conditions in Romania's huge state-run institutions.
Tens of thousands of children were found staring listlessly from their cots, often sick and malnourished.
How can we ensure such a tragedy never happens again? Have we done enough to help the Romanian orphans? Did you grow up in one of the orphanages, or did you volunteer, donate aid or adopt a Romanian child?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
I grew up in Iasi-Romania in a orphanage for 18 years. I had a very hard childhood there. I don't even want to remember the times we went to bed hungry and punished. The people that worked there were very cruel and heartless. My father died when I was a little and when my mother remarried her husband didn't want us, so they gave us to the orphanage. Right now I live in California (I met my husband in Iasi-Romania seven years ago and I am happy). I have two beautiful kids myself and I love them with all my heart, I will do anything for them. We wanted to go back to Romania and adopt a child, but I am waiting to get my citizenship and after that we will go back and try to adopt a child.
Georgeta Swartz, California - USA
We adopted a four-year-old little girl from Romania who is now seven. She spent the first two years of her life with little to no stimulation, love or human touch and was near death at age two when she was put in foster care. The foster family nursed her to physical health and we believe saved her life. But our daughter lives with the effects of the institutions every day of her life... extreme physical, emotional, developmental and cognitive delays, self-stimulation and self-soothing behaviours, and extreme fears of separation and abandonment, to name a few... Adoption... someone committed forever... is the only real hope for these children in overcoming the struggles they are certain to deal with.
Jeni cooper, USA
I went to Romania for three months to help as a volunteer in an orphanage and stayed well over 10 years living there permanently. I noticed from the beginning that not only orphans were living under terrible conditions but the elderly and the handicapped as well.... Seldom did we get support from the authorities who lost interest immediately when it was clear that personal gain was out of the question. All institutions were filthy and care non existent. Toys, clothing, warm blankets, even oil to heat the place in wintertime was stolen from them in no time. Together with a few orphans I had to dig a grave for a three-month-old baby from an orphan who had suddenly died. Nobody from the orphanage cared, nobody helped, [not even] the Orthodox Church. Sometimes the parents were to poor to support their children or were alcoholics and therefore the children were placed outside the home... Now most children have been placed with their parents in exchange for a monthly financial support from the government. Without this offer all of them would still be in an orphanage.
Aleida Brinkman, Bristol England
My husband and I have spent the last two and a half years trying to complete the adoption of Cristina - now five years old. Having intimate knowledge of this country's adoption issues and the EU's involvement in the new law banning international adoptions, I must take issue with your question "How can we ensure such a tragedy never happens again?" The truth is that the tragedy is ongoing right now in Romania. Tens of thousands of children are being denied their basic human right to a family, while politicians in Romania and the EU turn a blind eye to these innocent victims. I have to wonder what type of families these politicians were raised in not to understand the value of other children having what they themselves enjoyed by having a family to call their own.
Julie Murrell, Guam
Today is my daughter's 11th birthday. Unfortunately, she is still in Romania instead of being in our home as we expected when we started the adoption process. This is the 5th birthday we have spent apart, instead of united as a family. Every birthday and Christmas, we ask her what she wants. She only asks for one present. This year, she did not ask for a doll or clothes or shoes. She asked for us - a family. Unfortunately, we cannot give her the family she has wanted all her life, because of the new laws imposed upon Romania by the EU. Why should she be denied being with her family, when we are eagerly awaiting to love and care for her?
Claudia and William Tolleson, Little Rock, AR, USA
Well done for raising this problem, but it's important to point out that it is not confined to Romania. Many of the countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have large numbers of children in institutions, nowhere more than Romania's neighbour and fellow accession candidate Bulgaria.
Richard Carter, London
As the mothers of five children who began their lives in Romanian orphanages, we started our journey to become families. Because of these wonderful children, we've become so much more. We have all returned to Romania with our children to help them to understand their roots. In addition, we've had the wonderful opportunity to visit the friends and caretakers they left behind. Our children know their heritage, and embrace it fully. The hardest part is when they ask why their friends who are still in the Romanian group homes cannot have the opportunity to join us.
Becky, Emily, Jill & Terry, Kansas City Missouri
A Canadian couple who adopted an orphan sent the child back and the child is now stateless. She did not get Canadian immigration papers and the Romanian authorities considered her Canadian directly after the adoption. The federal, provincial and local governments in Canada did not fully supervise the adoption. Clearly, there is something wrong when people want to assuage themselves by doing something that is 'feel good' and not consider the ramifications.
G Lowe, Ontario, Canada
My husband, a British citizen, and myself met in Romania while volunteering in Sighisoara. I spent almost everyday working in an orphanage. In the year I was there, I could see babies brought in as newborns decline over the months. It was heartbreaking. Since returning, I have spent several years as a case manager in foster care in the US and I understand so much better now the importance of getting help for these children from day one. A difficulty for many aid organizations is not only the red tape, but also the corruption in the government. I think pressure from the EU will help to ensure that this type of mistreatment of children stops.
Melissa Fitzgerald, St Louis, Missouri, USA
I was once a child in an orphanage waiting for a forever family. I was there for 4 years. I love Romanian children there, and I feel sorry that they don't have a family. Every night I sit at my windowsill and think how there are so many children who need families. I have a brother in Romania who needs a forever family. I have a dream and I hope it will come true one day.
Veronica, Leawood, KS
I travelled to Romania in February 1990, specifically to take aid to the northern town of Iasi. My two travelling companions and I were welcomed by the new authorities and we were taken to the local orphanages without any problem. It is no exaggeration to say I have never been as horrified and shocked by what we encountered, the children kept 4 to a bed in basements, tied down or wrapped almost mummified, the stench of urine, and disease are no exaggeration. I can still smell and visualise those places 15 years later. I believe we helped the situation and the information we gathered and passed on to a number of international aid organisations encouraged others to continue helping to this day.
Steve Scott, Anglouleme, France
I adopted my daughter from an orphanage in Romania over 14 years ago. Her life has been a struggle and always will be due to the neglect and abuse she suffered in her institution. Adopted at age 15 months, virtually an infant developmentally and on her way to becoming autistic, she is now a wonderful young woman, who though challenged in a number of ways, lights up every room she walks into. Like many other adoptive parents, her struggles turned me into an activist in support of abandoned Romanian children, especially for all those who will never know the love of a permanent family.
Christina Goldstone, Gloucester, VA USA
I was out there driving trucks to the orphanages from the UK. I sometimes think to myself "Did I make a difference or not?" I have photos of kids that I helped and I always look at them and wonder. I was also at Ionseni and have seen the good that can be done.
Sean, Musselburgh, Scotland
The only way to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again is to make sure that contraception and adequate family planning resources are available to anyone who wants them, anywhere. If a government is interested in growing its population, that should be encouraged but not forced. Pregnancy and childbirth should never be forced on any woman as it was in Romania under Ceausescu - these poor children and the horrible conditions they grew up in are the inevitable result.
Amy Clements, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
I have visited Romania 20+ times in the last 10 years including 6 months on a gap placement. Romania is a country full of kind and caring people with strong family values and has changed markedly since my first visit in 1995. However the problem of orphans and street kids still exists (I tend to try and feed the street kids rather than give them money which will go on drugs or to gang leaders) and the problem will be solved without a concerted effort by the Romanian government, Romanian people and international help.
Peter Gilbert, Herts, England
My husband and I have been trying to adopt a Romanian child now for five and a half years. We were stopped after being in the process for one year by the moratorium on international adoptions. After waiting almost 3 years, in November 2002 we were matched with an eight month old little girl and were supposed to be able to be united with her within a few months. However, again, the processing of adoptions was stopped due to the threat of EU membership being jeopardized. It feels like our child is being held for a ransom. In November of 2004, I went with my church to Romania on a mission trip. I was not able to see Alina (the child we are trying to adopt), but I wanted to try to do something to make a difference. I took donated formula, clothes, etc. and volunteered in a state-run children's hospital for two days and a private-run home for two days.
At the state hospital there were many babies and young children in steel cribs that cried endlessly with NO attention. The first day I held a dying baby and sang to her most of the day. I wanted her to feel loved one day of her short life. The next day she was sedated but still responded to me when I touched her. She died the day I left. My heart was broken for these children and I think I would have adopted all of them if allowed.
It should be easier for people that want to help to do so. The laws that supposedly were put in place to protect the children have done the opposite
Beverly Kelly, Gastonia, NC USA
In 2003 I visited Baia Mare though the work of Hope and Homes for Children. We went to see 2 terrible institutions - the Camin Spital in Sighet, the Gardani institution that Mariana came from. Through the hard work and dedication of this wonderful group of people, both institutions are now closed and all the young people have either been reunited with their families, placed with Romanian foster carers or are now housed in 'small family homes'. The difference in the children is amazing. I was horrified during my visit to hear that there are still 70,000 children in Romanian institutions alone - the work of putting lives back together is far from done. Thank you BBC for highlighting the ongoing need for funding, awareness and help.
Lesley, South Wales
I have adopted 2 children who had been in an orphanage for 6 years; I also adopted one child from foster care. I spent several weeks in my children's nice, clean, cheerful orphanage and have heard their stories about life there. And of course I have lived with the effects of that past life. From all this I have concluded that any orphanage is only as good as its worst caregiver (whose problems even other caregivers may not recognize), and that the children in orphanages are society's most helpless, vulnerable individuals. I am astonished by my daughters' resilience but it's taken hard work to repair those years in a "good" institution; and the contrast with my daughter out of foster care could not be more stark. No childhood should be spent in an institution, no matter how apparently 'nice' that institution looks to the outside world.
Elizabeth, Berkeley, USA
I am Romanian and have worked in Romanian orphanages for 3 summers whilst I was in school. I found it a very moving experience. Whilst the two orphanages I have been to were not in any way luxurious, they were not lacking in the basic comforts. I found that the children needed affection as much as material help, as they only had about one carer for every 50 children. The children were incredibly warm and I would recommend to anybody with the means and the inclination to go and become a carer during a holiday - it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
Liliana, New York
Since 1997 I've travelled to Romania seven times to work with the orphanages and people of Romania. I have come to love the country and the people very much. The workers at the institutions work for so little pay, yet I've seen improvement in the orphanages in eight years. Many of the workers are dedicated and caring people. The fact that they've closed international adoption is very disheartening. There are so many beautiful children who could have loving homes, and until the authorities really care about the lives of these children, there'll still be too many kids on the street. I can't stay away.
Jeannie Corcoran, White Bear Lake, MN, USA
On September 11, 2001, my husband and I were trying to decide whether to fly to Romania to meet our newly adopted teenage daughter and bring her home, or have her escorted to the US. The events of that day caused us to decide the latter. We were not aware that Romania was about to shut down adoptions in progress right around that time. Mirela arrived Friday, October 5, and Monday all adoptions were stopped.
We're aware that some other older children in the process of being adopted were allowed to come out of Romania. If Mirela had not made it that day, she would still be in Romania as her 16th birthday would have prohibited an international adoption. We celebrated her 16th birthday on October 23rd, just two weeks later. Knowing how little she knew about life, and the fact that she is hearing impaired, with multiple health issues related to her abysmal institutionalization - we wonder where she would be today at nearly 20 years of age. No orphanage keeps children beyond 18. We doubt she would have survived on the streets.
Victor & Christiane Marshall , Nelsonville, Ohio, USA
In 1992, I was a volunteer with The Relief Fund for Romania. I worked in a hospital, orphanage and old people's home. I was 18 at the time and my experiences in the hospital match those described. The photos could have been taken inside the hospital where I cared for abandoned and orphaned children. It was a life changing experience for me, especially when on Christmas Eve I cuddled a little girl called Alexandra, and she died in my arms. Memories and images from that time live with me daily.
Emma Weston, Harthill, S. Yorks
Fifteen years ago, my husband and I adopted a 7 month old baby boy. At the time, we already had a 2 year old biological daughter and I was pregnant with what became our 3rd child. After reading this news story and reading the stories of the young adults who have left the orphanage, it only reinforces how important it was to adopt our son. We desperately wanted to help all those Romanian children after the fall of the dictatorship, but we knew realistically, we could help one. Our son is now 15 and in the 10th grade. He plays piano beautifully and wants to be a TV meteorologist. I told our son that his adoption took nine months - just as a pregnancy - but instead of labour pains, I had paperwork pains! He was worth every struggle, every tear, every inconvenience.
Leah, Brandon, Mississippi, USA
Thank you so very much for running this series. I was very disheartened to hear that the Romanian government had recently banned foreign adoptions, and reversed those adoptions currently underway, ostensibly to curb shady practices of "adoption." Stories such as these by the BBC highlight the continuing need for international attention to these children. Before membership to the EU is attained, Romania must be held responsible for the welfare of its most precious and vulnerable citizens, the children.
Alissa Manolescu, Atlanta, GA, USA
I went to Romania in 1996 for 4 months to volunteer in the orphanages, and work with children living in the sewage systems. I saw many of the usual images associated with these places - overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and children addicted to sniffing glue and alcohol. One of the most disturbing things I witnessed was young children (3-7 year olds) who were living in a youth detention centre, simply because there was no where else for them to go. I wondered what chance they had when they lived in such an environment. Despite all these things, I found the stereotypes of Romanian staff to be mostly untrue. The orphanage staff I encountered were caring and helpful, and did the best with what they had. Many of the adults and children I met in Romania were filled with hope and laughter, a testament to the courageous nature of the human spirit.
Michelle Green, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
In 1991 I spent approximately a year at the Ionseni orphanage near Botosani in the north. My overall memories of that time were of dedicated people doing good things with children and young adults within the orphanage. However, even then it was obvious that the country was in need of social change, as it was generally accepted that these children had no place in society as they could not contribute. This may have been because of the local environment which was very much subsistence farming, and if you couldn't work the fields you didn't eat. Many children in the village were malnourished and abused. Where was their aid? Romania needed much more than aid to orphanages, Romania needed great social change and development that would only come with time. I sincerely hope that for the wonderful Romanians who took us in as their own that they receive the benefits of democracy that they deserve.
I may not be a Romanian, but hearing sad stories about the malnourished children really moved me to tears. The world must work together to provide aid to these children and the authorities must not provide unnecessary red tape. Providing technical assistance and continuous aid can help to alleviate the situation. In my opinion, Romania is a prime example of a failed communist state.
I have recently been to Romania for the 5th time in 8 years, and am more and more impressed each time by the progress that is being made to bring Romania to a level of the "Western World". Unfortunately, this beautiful country's reputation is tarnished by those who can only report on topics which sell - orphanages, glue-sniffing street children, adverse poverty, red tape. How quickly one forgets that all the above exist all over the world, even in the more 'civilised' countries where is it better hidden for 'convenience-sake'. It is time to give Romania a real chance - yes, it has had its fair share of founded horror stories, but instead of speaking only of the dire negative, maybe for once report on the beauty of the country, the warmth of its people, the richness of the land and the fact that most Romanians today still know what true family values are.
Joyce, Geneva, Switzerland
I once visited the homes for orphans run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's sisters) in Bacau and Bucharest. Those children and young adults once institutionalized as "irrecuperables" were almost all damaged in mind and body. The scars of neglect and abuse were not all physical. Some still clawed their own flesh off the bone and chewed their fingers bloody, especially those who had come from the appalling centres at Ungerrini and Gisteni. Counterbalancing the ugliness though, was the warmth with which the orphans responded to the simplest gestures of care and affection. I was also impressed by the number and generosity of lay volunteers from the UK who spent their vacation time assisting these children.
Paul Mankowsski, S.J., Rome, Italy
I've just finished a 6 month gap year placement in Bucharest, and whilst it didn't involve working in an orphanage, I was given an opportunity to visit one whilst there. It was quite eye opening. Where I went was nothing like the horror stories heard at the beginning of the 90s and still resonating today; it was a nice children's play room in a hospital wing. What was amazing though was how Romanian law is still particularly slanted against orphans, with little, if any aid, given to help them. Hopefully the new government, under President Bacescu, will be able to do more. Romania is a beautiful country, and deserves better than to be saddled with a negative image in the West.
David Workman, Bristol
I just want to express my gratitude to the BBC for running this story. After leaving Romania in 1986, we have frequently returned for visits. On one of these visits my family and I visited an institution for mentally retarded orphans. It is a scene I will never forget. Two years ago we visited Romania again, and I learned through personal contacts that the orphanage aid being sent to an institution in my home town there was being misused. The most desirable clothing, toys and prams were being sold by staff or distributed to their family members, with only what remained being given to orphans.
Elisa Dumitrescu, Nairobi, Kenya
It breaks my heart to read what these young men and women experienced as children. How can a society so disregard its most precious treasures? Please, young people, know that there are those of us in the world who are deeply wounded to hear of your experiences as children. I am a motherless woman who would have given anything to adopt any one of you and love you as my own. I pray that each of those young people will find the love they never had in childhood and that those years of cruelty and deprivation have given them the strength and resilience to overcome the pain and find meaning in their lives.
Cheryl, Seattle, USA
For years Romania has struggled to improve the orphanages. Then suddenly the EU said they had to improve child welfare and Romania came up with a solution to dissolve the orphanages and sent the kids back, so they don't have a problem anymore. This is a country so bound up in red tape it is going to take decades to sort out.
Peter Martin (aid worker), Little Paxton
It was quite a shock to see some of the children I had worked with in Siret on the BBC website. I was there for almost 2 years after I left school, and I doubt I will ever experience anything like it ever again. One of the major problems was that huge sums of money were thrown into often poorly conceived projects when it first hit the news. But soon Romanian orphans began to disappear from our TV screens and the money dwindled. Just because the orphans weren't 'cute' and were getting older, the money began to run out. The only sustainable projects have to be run with the Romanians at the helm.
John W, London
I went to Zalau, Transylvania three years ago and witnessed first hand, the appalling conditions the children live in, a remnant of the corruption which has been exacerbated by the country's turn toward democracy. The sights I witnessed must have aged me 10 years but these people are living with the effects of corruption and of running a system where they are continually in debt to the World Bank, and at the last count, had the largest number of (unusable) brain scanners in the country.
Rebecca Harris, Cambs, UK