Invisible Children: Romania's Orphan Tragedy

Article excerpt

Prior to its entry into the European Union in January 2007, Romania selectively reformed its political and economic institutions and policies in order to meet EU standards and regulations. While agricultural and foreign policies were altered with much publicity, substandard social conditions in need of change, including childcare, human trafficking, prison overcrowding, and conditions in psychiatric institutions, were merely discussed. In particular, Romania has taken inadequate and inefficient steps to protect its orphaned and disabled children. These less publicized social concerns, however, were not considered sound grounds for postponing membership, and Romania was duly welcomed into the European club. By doing so, great damage has been done not only to the lives of Romania's children but also to the mission of the European Union.

Articles 24 and 26 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union establish the inherent rights of the child and disabled persons, respectively. Moreover, the European Union enthusiastically adopted the new UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, deeming it a positive step in the establishment of human dignity. Hence, orphaned and disabled children are protected on a transnational scale under these two agreements. The reality, however, for these children is dire.

While a growing number of orphaned children are protected by Law 272--written in conjunction with the European Union to correct the government's poor treatment of orphaned children in government institutions--orphaned and disabled children were excluded. To be precise, the government ordered that children under the age of two could not live in a government-run orphan institution, in the hope of building relations between orphaned children and biological or foster relatives. Nonetheless, Law 272 also includes a particular loophole that permits all orphaned children under the age of two with "severe" disabilities to be sent to these institutions. Though Romania also concedes that around 700 infants have never left the maternity ward of hospitals, it denies the existence of infants in Romanian institutions. Such institutions, though newer, are not proper homes for children and further the development of disabilities. UNICEF estimates that there are about 200 of these smaller institutions in Romania; child protection authorities admit that there are over 30,000 children, many disabled, still living there.

It was only a matter of time before the appalling conditions of these institutions were uncovered. Mental Disability Rights International, an organization dedicated to the investigation and documentation of human rights abuses, recently headed an 18-month fact finding investigation into the situation in these remaining institutions. …