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The Plight of Romanian Orphans

By Edited May 26, 2015 1 0

For many couples and single women, the possibility of having children is not medically attainable.  Adoption of babies or children is an alternative and many choose to pursue adoption of foreign children.   After the fall of communism in Romania, Romanian orphanages came into the public consciousness and it is from here, potential parents seek their children.

The History of the Romanian Orphans

In 1965 Nicolae Ceusescu became the Communist leader of Romania and implemented numerous policies to further his ideals.  The dictator envisioned a strong Romania to rival other industrial countries.  In order to bring his country to his ideal status, he was determined to increase the population from 22 million to 30 million by the year 2000.  He reasoned the increase in births would increase the workforce.[6]

Ceusescu’s strategy to achieve the increased population was to enact laws which forced women to have children.  Families were required to have at least four children and the following year, he increased the requirement to five.[6]  Families who were unable to care for their children were encouraged to place the children in state-run orphanages.  Contraception and abortion were illegal for most women. Women of child-bearing age had to endure regular examines to prove they had not had abortions.[5]

Under Ceusescu’s rule, Romania’s economy stumbled as he spent little on improving his country and much on his own personal endeavors and properties. Many families were left in poverty.  Unable to care for their children, many abandoned their children into state care where they were placed in an orphanage.  Technically these children were abandoned, not

Orphanage in Romania; Photo by Thomas Black57, Source: Wikimedia Commons
orphaned.  However, they ended up in the same institutions. In 1989 after the collapse of communism in Romania, the world learned of the plight of the Romanian orphans.  Reports are conflicting regarding the actual number, but between 1000,000 and 170,000 children were in one of the 300 state-run orphanages.[6]

Poverty forced women into prostitution and without contraception, unwanted pregnancies created more unwanted and subsequently abandoned children.   Newborns were abandoned immediately and relegated to “housing” centers in medical facilities where the only contact they received was the feeding every few hours.

Conditions in the Romanian Orphanage

Romanian Orphan; Photo by Thomas Black57, Source: Wikimedia Commons
The orphans of Romania endured terrible conditions.   Children outnumbered the staff at least 26:1 and were provided with very little adult human contact.[2]  The buildings were large, dank and crumbling. Overcrowding was the standard as journalists found babies lying on stacked shelves of carts in one orphanage.

The children and infants were often neglected and starved.[2]  Unable to supervise the children adequately, they were bound to beds or chairs to curtail behavior.  Children were observed banging their heads against rusty bed railings or walls.  Scientific study confirmed the children were in the third to tenth percentile for physical growth.  They were grossly delayed in their motor and mental development.


Romanian Orphans Today

When the communist regime was overthrown, the new government spent millions of dollars to improve the state of the orphanages.  Foreign aid organizations quickly came to the aid the orphans, giving millions to improve conditions.  Advisors from America and Europe worked with the new government to set up programs for adoption of the children or placement in foster homes.  In 2005, the Romanian government had incentive to remedy the problem of the orphanages: they were denied membership in the European Union until the system the children were deinstitutionalized.  Romania passed a law which prohibited the placement of children under three years of age into institutions unless they were severely disabled.[6]  In addition, foreign adoptions were blocked in order to decrease child trafficking.

Because the economy in Romania continues to be troubled, there are still thousands of babies being abandoned every year. In February 2006 investigators for Mental Disability Rights International discovered 65 infants being cared for by three staff at a “nutritional recuperation center” in the city of Timisoara. Some of them had no disability at the time, but register nurse Karen Green McGowan who assessed many of the children, stated the early neglect led to disabilities later.[2]

Helping Orphans; Photo by Duncanogi, Source: Wikimedia Commons
As of 2012 numerous organizations have made it their mission to find alternatives for the thousands of abandoned and orphaned children of Romania.  Changing the system to one of institution to family centered takes time, but the Romanian government accepts the model and UNICEF and the World Health Organization recognize it as the best practice.

The goal of most of these organizations is to close the orphanages and this is a tall task.  The economy of Romania is still experiencing great difficulty and babies are still a casualty of the strife the women feel.  In 2006 there were still a reported 140,000 children in orphanages.[1]

However statistics are varied by report.  The Romanian Authority for Child Protection reported in 2004 a total of just over 32,000 in institutions.  Foreign Aid Organizations report closer to about 100,000 still institutionalized.  In 2011, it was reported the figure was down to 19,000 institutionalized; though 62,000 were under the care of the state.[1]

The downturn of the world’s economy has made it difficult to make headway into the problem of the Romanian orphans. Foreign adoption of the children is no longer allowed and Foreign Aid organizations struggle to maintain the momentum.  Still, charities from the United Kingdom, Hope and Homes for Children and Absolute Return for Kids (ARK), launched a plan to complete reformation of the Romanian Child Protection Systems and close all large orphanages in Romania by 2020.[5]  They are joined by other organizations and missionaries who have a mission to eliminate the orphanages and significantly decrease the number of abandoned and orphaned children.


The copyright of the article The Plight of Romanian Orphans is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

Romanian Orphanages



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  1. "Romanian Orphans." Wikipedia. 09/05/2012 <Web >
  2. Chris Rogers "What became of Romania's neglected orphans?." BBC news. 09/05/2012 <Web >
  3. "The Motive." Touched Romania. 09/05/2012 <Web >
  4. "The Science of Mother’s Day." The Why files?. 09/05/2012 <Web >
  5. Virginia Ironside "Romania's orphanages: Locking the past away." The Independent. 09/05/2012 <Web >
  6. "Romania’s Orphanages – 20 Years on." socyberty. 09/05/2012 <Web >

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