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Disposable children

Maynard, R. (from Zalau, Romania). (1998, December 12). "Disposable children: Ceaucescu is no longer a legitimate excuse; Romania continues to throw away its kids." World, pp. 22-23.

OVERVIEW

Two pictures illustrate this article: Sitting in a freight car on a railroad siding is Ovidu, 16, one of Bucharest’s 2,500 homeless street kids. The second is of small children, four to a bed, with the caption: "Unwanted: Nearly 25 children squeeze into a small, filthy room for naps."

When the world-known orphanage kids turn 18, they are turned out onto the streets, and many of these girls are lured into prostitution.

Leadership Training International’s (Florida-based LTI) Gary Moore and Rita McClure are working with three girls (among others) who have come out of orphanages. They have received some training in the orphanage, but jobs are scarce—especially with girls of "dark gypsy features." They have found some temporary employment; one lost her job when the company closed.

The girls are living in a 12- by 18-foot room; one light, three beds. There’s an Iron Maiden poster, a hotplate, some curling prints of Eastern Orthodox icons on the wall. There’s no hot water today; the pipes are busted again and the basement is flooded, but the landlord plans to sell the building and is slow to fix things. But he’s quick to collect the rent ($10 a month from each girl, or about a third of her monthly wages). And most disturbing to Westerners is the slowly dawning fact that the building and the room—and consequently the girls—are louse-infected. Later, when they get Rita alone, they ask for some shampoo that might help. When they’re not looking, Rita quietly cries.

Rita, Gary, and their translator take the girls to a…restaurant in downtown Zalau. After prayer, Monica, Nadia, and Claudia order pizza and giggle. But there’s some disappointment, too; they want Rita to take them away, to solve their problems, to take care of them.

‘No money,’ Gary reminds her. ‘That’s the only thing we can’t do.’

It’s tempting for Americans and Westerners to give money to solve immediate human problems that are actually symptoms of deeper issues. Such help may be counterproductive for those helped and for the social situation. With just $10, a girl’s rent could be paid for a month, another $20 would give her regular meals, and $50 would seem to solve everything. Gary and Rita do, in fact, help their young friends with indirect financial need, but they realize the trap of doing so—as Rita explains:

That’s exactly how it is with teenagers back home. They’re your babies, you want to take care of them, especially when it’s so easy. But you have to teach them, not take care of them...You know...(tough love, and ) discipleship hurts.

Rita is looking for suitable housing, and Gary is considering a cookie-baking business these girls could run with Rita as a consultant. Gary has heard people say they can’t get a decent chocolate chip cookie anywhere.

Behind the problem of homeless street kids is the abandonment of children in Romania. Cristian Tabacaru is a young pediatrician (29) who runs the Ministry of Child Protection. He is responsible for the country’s 100,000 abandoned children and hopes to reduce that number to 40,000 in five years. It is a difficult challenge because only about 10% of the total are under 3 and readily adoptable. Almost half are over 11 years of age. Tabacaru spoke to the BBC about the epidemic of child abandonment in his country.

Communism has given Romania one of the most refined systems for damaging children. It’s impossible to continue like that. Governments can do a lot of things, but they can’t raise children.

A hostess from one of the orphanages explained how children get into their system:

The parents take the child to a hospital with some small complaint. The child is coughing, they say. Or had a fever. When they fill out the papers, they give false names, false address. And they leave. (When asked if parents weren’t afraid to just leave, she responded): You mean in America, they can put people in jail for that?

The article notes that hundreds of children are abandoned daily—in hospitals or left on the front steps of orphanages. This despite the fact that there are almost three abortions for every live birth in Romania. American couples have adopted some 15,000 Romanian babies, and thousands more have been adopted by British, Australians, and families of other countries. World newspapers told the story of a British couple, who frustrated with bureaucratic delays, tried to smuggle their new daughter across the Hungarian border. After being apprehended, they were detained, charged with kidnapping, finally granted a pardon, but had to return home without their daughter.

In a final note:

The estimated number of homeless kids begging, sniffing inhalants, and selling sex on the streets of Bucharest, Zalau, and other Romanian cities, is about 350,000.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

  1. Do you find yourself more critical of the country in which there is so much abandonment of children rather than trying to understand it? Do we have a tendency to condemn other societies when there are serious flaws in our own? How are children or youth neglected or abused in your country?
  2. Can you understand how released orphans drift into crime, drugs, prostitution, and homelessness? Do you see a clear relationship between the number of orphans and the problem of street children?
  3. What do you think are the best responses within Romania, and from outsiders who care, to the problem of orphans and street children discussed here?

IMPLICATIONS

  1. The issues of aborted fetuses, abandoned and neglected children, and homeless youth into dangerous sex, drugs and crime are worldwide problems.
  2. The dignity of human life, responsible adult behavior, child welfare, economic development, proper education and job training, and effective youth work must all be considered in dealing with these problems.
  3. Along with the adoption of children from other countries, there has also come help in making orphanages cleaner and healthier. Some Romanians like Cristian Tabacaru are working hard on this matter. The scars of an oppressive Communist regime still need healing, as the country looks for economic, social, and spiritual renewal.

Dean Borgman cCYS