tied to cribs and chairs, often cold, underfed and smeared with
their own feces: Romania has tried over the last decade to erase
those images of its orphanages seen around the world.
thousands of children in government-run institutions are still
living in conditions that are little changed from a decade ago,
investigators for Mental Disability Rights International found.
in a report to be released today, just days before the European
Union issues its final assessment on whether Romania has met
human rights and other membership standards, researchers described
an eerie silence in a ward where 65 abandoned children were
housed, because "children who do not receive attention when
they cry learn to stop crying."
an adult psychiatric hospital, investigators found some children
wrapped head to toe in sheets used as full-body restraints.
When the staff agreed to remove the sheet on a 17-year-old girl,
the report states, "her skin came off with the sheet, leaving
a raw open wound beneath it."
was the most horrible thing I've ever seen in 13 years of doing
this work," said Eric Rosenthal, executive director of Mental
Disability Rights International, a Washington-based group, and
the co-author of the report.
Rosenthal's group is urging the European Union to insist that
Romania take immediate action to end the abuse before next year,
when the country hopes to join the union.
strategy has worked before. In September 2005, as Turkey began
formal talks to join the European Union, Mental Disability Rights
International released a report on the use of electroshock therapy
without anesthesia in Turkish psychiatric hospitals. Turkey
has since ended the practice at its main psychiatric hospital
in Istanbul and is addressing other problems raised in the report.
Pella, an official at Romania's National Authority for the Protection
of Children's Rights, said she had not yet seen the report,
but disputed its findings.
are talking about a report made by a nongovernmental organization,
and it's their opinion," Ms. Pella said by telephone from Bucharest.
"They are not talking about facts in all of Romania, just about
some cases in two counties."
the number of children in the country's orphanages has dropped
to about 30,000 from 170,000 in the early 1990's, many children,
particularly those with mental or physical disabilities, have
simply been moved into less visible, though equally appalling,
institutions, including adult psychiatric hospitals, Mental
Disability Rights International found.
was rushing to show that it had decreased its orphanage population,
but it left children with disabilities behind," Mr. Rosenthal
said in New York on Monday. He said there was no way to estimate
how many children were living in the conditions described in
orphanages are a legacy of Nicolae Ceausescu's rule. He banned
birth control and left under-financed state institutions to
care for the wave of abandoned children that followed. After
he was assassinated in 1989, as Communist rule ended, the horrors
of the system were exposed to the world.
has improved since then. Foreign aid organizations rushed in,
and European and American advisers worked with Romania's new
government to help put abandoned children up for adoption or
place them in foster homes. In January 2005, intending to bring
the country in line with European Union practices, Romania passed
a law that prohibited placing children under 3 in institutions
unless they were "severely disabled." The law also blocked foreign
adoptions in the hope of cutting down on child trafficking.
according to the report, about 9,000 babies are deserted in
Romania every year, one of the highest rates in Europe. The
country's foster care and adoption programs strain to keep up
with the number of children who need their help.
a result, abandoned children with even mild disabilities and
some with none at all are being kept in maternity wards or other
hospital-associated institutions until they are old enough to
be moved to an orphanage or other institution. In February,
investigators for the group found 65 infants, some without any
disability, being cared for by three people at a "nutritional
recuperation center" in the western city of Timisoara.
children were confined to their cribs most of the time, the
report states. Some of the older ones rocked back and forth,
banging their heads or "making the rhythmic sounds from dislocated
jaws common in children left lying down for extended periods,"
the report said.
Green McGowan, a registered nurse who assessed many of the children
cited in the report, said the early neglect led to disabilities
later on, making it likely that many otherwise normal children
would end up institutionalized for life.
they're doing there, in my opinion, is manufacturing disability,"
Ms. Green McGowan said. "By the time they're in their teens,
these kids are being moved into institutions."
Pella, the government official, said that her figures showed
that 5,000 children are abandoned each year but that half are
eventually reunited with their families. Foster care and adoption
programs handle the rest, she said. Only those who require medical
care stay in the hospital or are institutionalized, she said.
the report documents several cases of older children, some kept
in permanent restraints, in adult facilities, including the
St. Pantelimon adult psychiatric hospital in the eastern city
found 46 children in Braila, one near death, that looked like
they were from Auschwitz, just skin and bones," Mr. Rosenthal
found bed ridden teenagers "so emaciated that they looked like
they were 3 or 4 years old," their limbs atrophied and contorted
of giving the children attention, the report states, the hospital
staff tied them down.
Mental Disability Rights International and a Romanian organization
notified the government of the situation, the children were
moved to two smaller institutions for children, the report stated.
But the more disabled of them remained isolated, without even
a bathroom for toilet training. All of them, up to the age of
17, use diapers.