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Not French politics this time

Yes, another newspaper article post, but for a change it's about something other than French politics or French politicians.  This is from yesterday's New York Times, and it's not a happy story.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Romania's Orphans Face Widespread Abuse, Group Says 
Robert Levy/Mental Disability Rights International

Thousands of children in government-run institutions live in conditions that are little changed from a decade ago, with many confined to cribs.

Published: May 10, 2006

Children 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.

 But 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.

Writing 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."

In 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."

"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.

Mr. 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.

The 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.

Simona 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.

"We 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."

While 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.

"Romania 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 the report.

Romania's 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.

Much 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.

But, 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.

As 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.

The 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.

Karen 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.

"What 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."

Ms. 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.

But 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 of Braila.

"We found 46 children in Braila, one near death, that looked like they were from Auschwitz, just skin and bones," Mr. Rosenthal said.

They found bed ridden teenagers "so emaciated that they looked like they were 3 or 4 years old," their limbs atrophied and contorted from disuse.

Instead of giving the children attention, the report states, the hospital staff tied them down.

After 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.


Anyone else feel thwarted, frustrated, helpless?  Well, maybe the thing to do is look around our own backyards and see what needs fixing, and start with that.  I started volunteering at the Getty Museum in 1998 because I wanted to do something pleasant after four years of volunteering for AIDS organisations.  Maybe vacation time is over and I should think about getting back to something grittier again.  Anyone care to join me?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 11th, 2006 01:19 pm (UTC)
I read an article on the BBC that AIDS awareness is falling - perhaps if you don't want to get right back into the nitty-gritty, you can help with the awareness. I think that's a huge part to solving any situation, even (or especially) the one above - changing attitudes. Well, so is good funding, but I've never been good at asking for or dealing with money, so helping out any other way I can is my route.

Anyway, I started volunteering for the homeless. I would join you, but distance volunteering is a little difficult, to say the least!

And what did you do in your pre-Getty volunteering days, exactly? I know it was for AIDS, but don't really know the specifics. Or is this over-coffee fare?
May. 12th, 2006 11:17 am (UTC)
Didn't have a chance to respond to this yesterday.

No, it's not over-coffee fare (at least not the basics). I worked in the Development Department of a local AIDS nonprofit organisation. We handled fundraising, creating and maintaining a donor database, planning and staffing fundraising events, etc. I made two very good friends there (both dead for years now); both men were clients of the agency and one (Don) was also a staff member in the Development Department for part of the time I was involved with the organisation. The friendship with Don (and here's where we may go the over-coffee route) was an out-of-office one as well, and one that intensified as he got sicker. Hmmm ... yeah, maybe we can continue this next month.
May. 12th, 2006 11:54 am (UTC)
:-( Next month.

Fundraising... erg, kudos on that! Never my strong point!
May. 11th, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC)
Every time I read articles about the state of children in the world being harmed that I can't fix, it breaks my heart. What can you do to help children in those situations? I know that while foster care and homes are not perfect in the US there are not stories of state run facilities that have children in reprehensible circumstances like the poor children in Romania.

St. Pantelimon is the Russian Orthodox patron saint of healing. His name means all-merciful, and I cannot help being horrified at the juxtaposition between the figure the facility is named for, and the "treatment" that goes on within the walls. http://www.orthodoxwiki.org/Panteleimon

I feel like I need to be doing something to help others because I feel really helpless in terms of rebuilding the city because without levees stuff won't happen. So, I've tried to get involved with CASA again, but they are a bit in flux. I'm looking for volunteer opportunities because despite having so much less than before, I have so much more than others.
May. 11th, 2006 04:26 pm (UTC)
I still plug education... and support. Rebuilding is something that is not just done with levees and mortar, but with moral support, too. And now is probably when people need support, with children especially. Sometimes just someone to listen to? I don't know if you have a background in psychology or something, but maybe you don't need that to work with a support group? Perhaps there's a support group for foster parents, where people can go to talk about problems they're having with their children? Sometimes people just don't feel they can talk about it because they feel they should know better, and it's always embarrassing to ask, at least I find in our society, because we make knowledge out to be this privileged thing, when it shouldn't be, we should be sharing it. There was just a quote the other day on my calendar from a woman named Mary Fuller (I don't recognise the name): "If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it." I think we need more of that kind of thinking, even though it's very basic. So perhaps even if you couldn't counsel people, perhaps there is a group that needs people to help get the word out?

I can excuse what the people mentioned in the article are doing, but I can sympathise that they are likely underfunded and overworked. They are likely going mad themselves, and probably have no support. I think that while there do exist people who intentionally want to hurt others, even children, most people don't, but can be driven to it. People can't do things on their own, they need support. Heck, look at LJ, that seems to be one of the reasons we're here, whether it was intentional or not.

Anyway, that's all for me for now.
May. 12th, 2006 11:33 am (UTC)
That's it exactly. You read an article like this and know there's nothing you can do to help these kids, and it breaks your heart. And so I post things like this and watch them go unremarked on except by you and jenni_snake, and that makes me even sadder. People on my flist post about television shows and get dozens of comments sometimes, but post about something real and there's silence (which I suppose speakes volumes in and of itself).

Don't mind me, I'm just feeling a little sad today.

You know, if you're interested in politics at all, you should come take a look at worldaffairs sometimes. The politicians are a little different from their real-world selves, I'll admit (Angela iam_angelam less so than others), but all the posts take off from real events. Posts by non-players aren't allowed, but comments certainly are, and will be answered in character. [/pimping of community]
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )