58393 3/28/2006 11:09 06BUCHAREST536 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL VZCZCXRO4203 PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHBM #0536/01 0871109 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 281109Z MAR 06 ZDK FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4071 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 2183 C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000536
STATE DEPT. FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH STATE PASS TO AID
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/28/2016 TAGS: CASC, PGOV, PHUM, PREL, RO SUBJECT: ABANDONED CHILDREN STILL SUFFERING IN ROMANIA
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Classified By: CDA Mark Taplin for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary: During an unannounced visit to a children's hospital near Bucharest, Poloff observed first-hand the poor conditions we believe continue to be a fact of life for many of Romania's institutionalized children. Some of the twenty children at the hospital exhibited signs of severe neglect, malnutrition, and a lack of sufficient medical attention. Local children's rights NGOs report similar conditions exist throughout the country in maternity wards and children's hospitals that have increasingly served as makeshift orphanages because of Romania's ban on inter-country adoptions. Nonetheless, the Romanian government and top EU officials have trumpeted Romania's system for abandoned children as a model for other countries in eastern and central Europe. End Summary.
An Unannounced Visit ) "No Time to Clean Up"
2. (C) Poloff paid a visit March 23 to Victor Gomoiu Children's Hospital (strictly protect) on the outskirts of Bucharest, accompanied by an American pediatric nurse who volunteers at the hospital as a caretaker and has helped arrange medical surgery for severe cases. The nurse also provides help to a U.S.-based NGO that provides financial support and visits the children daily. The hospital maintains cribs for about 20 orphaned children of various ages, in addition to the children that are there for medical care. The visiting nurse stated that the abandoned children, whose ages range from 3 months to 8 years old, remain mostly inside their cribs with little opportunity to run around or develop their capacity to speak.
3. (C) Hospital staff noted that some of the abandoned babies had arrived after they overstayed the 120-day limit now imposed on the larger hospitals that the Romanian government often shows visiting EU officials. Other babies are just dropped off, leaving medical staff uncertain as to whether the parents intend to return. Often, those abandoning the children provide false identities and addresses, or have no address to give. While previously babies were legally declared "abandoned" after six months without contact from their parents, the new EU-supported child protection law enacted in January 2005 does not set a timeframe, leaving many abandoned infants and children "un-adoptable" for years. Even then, the nurse noted, the de facto ban on international adoptions in the new law meant that many of the children would never be adopted as there were not enough prospective Romanian parents seeking to adopt. Several children have been at the hospital for years because social workers have been unable to find foster families willing to take them.
4. (C) The nurse expressed further concern that the January 2005 child protection law places a "nearly total" emphasis on the reunification of abandoned children with biological families. She had observed first-hand social workers attempting to reintegrate children from the hospital into "grossly unstable" situations. In one case, social workers pressed to return a two-year old girl to a biological mother who continues to engage in prostitution. Each time the mother refused to accept the girl, showing social workers the needle marks on her arms from her heroin addiction. In a separate case, a Roma mother has appeared five times in court to refuse her rights to her biological son. Nonetheless, the case has yet to be settled in favor of the American family resident in Bucharest that has supported the boy for most of his life.
Disabled and Roma Children the Most Vulnerable
--------------------------------------------- - 5. (C) The nurse noted that disabled abandoned children face the greatest hardship. She pointed to two children in the ward with cerebral palsy who demonstrated signs of malnutrition. One was tied to her crib with a bed sheet around her wrist. Her head was noticeably misshapen from constantly lying on her back. The other, an eight-year-old boy, was propped up and fastened to his crib in a sitting position. His forearms were about the size of a quarter in circumference and he kept his mouth wide open throughout the visit. According to the nurse, overburdened hospital staff sometimes miss his feedings, which take extensive time because of his disability.
6. (C) The nurse added that Roma children make up a disproportionately large percentage of the abandoned children at Victor Gomoiu and other children's hospitals. She took Poloff to the cribside of a two-and-a-half-year old Roma boy with no disabilities who she said was usually tied down to
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prevent him from leaving the crib )- hospital staff "simply don't have time" to care for him. Due to a lack of attention, the boy suffered from what the nurse called a "severe attachment disorder," throwing tantrums and hitting his head violently against the crib. A year-and-half-old boy nearby suffers near blindness from cataracts. The nurse and the U.S. NGO had repeatedly asked hospital staff to carry out surgery to address the problem. The nurse had arranged heart surgery the previous week for a boy she met four years ago in the hospital. The doctors told her not to pick him up since they were just "waiting for him to die." The American NGO told poloff that 13 abandoned children have died at the hospital since 1999.
"Don't Pick Them Up -- They Will Just Cry Later"
--------------------------------------------- --- 7. (C) The visit in the section with toddlers was cut short after a doctor asked poloff not to pick the children up ) they would "just cry furiously" when put back in their cribs. Poloff went to a separate room that housed three babies, but has about 10 cribs for abandoned babies that come from Bucharest's larger hospitals before they are placed in "foster care." The American NGO is allowed to provide care for the babies during certain hours, including feeding, changing diapers, and providing toys. A three-month-old girl, six-month-old boy, and one-year-old girl have all lived there since they were newly born. None has been declared "adoptable." The boy's brother previously spent three months at the hospital until he contracted tuberculosis and was moved to another hospital.
8. (C) The nurse, who had visited numerous hospitals and small orphanages in Romania, stated that the poor conditions at Victor Gomoiu are duplicated at numerous other child welfare institutions. She characterized Romanian foster care as only marginally better, noting that while she had met many good-hearted foster parents, she had also met others in Romania who "simply do it for the money." In a hurry to please the European Commission, Romania had closed many of its large orphanages. While officials heralded these closures as progress, the nurse lamented that the new smaller institutions and foster care group homes are harder for NGOs to reach.
9. (C) Comment: Although the European Commission has repeatedly commended Romania for improving its system of care for abandoned and orphaned children, the conditions observed during this unannounced visit to one hospital -- in addition to reports post has received from multiple child welfare NGOs and local officials -- indicate the situation is actually worsening. Meanwhile, EU parliamentarian and former European Parliament Rapporteur for Romania Emma Nicholson, a primary architect of the current Romanian legislation, has pledged to see the flawed approach adopted in other countries in the region. Our contacts hope that new opposition within the European Parliament to Romania's inter-country adoption ban -- matched by other international efforts -- will reverse damage done by the 2005 Child Protection law and put Romania on a more balanced and responsible course in caring for these vulnerable children. End Comment.