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Romanian Adoption Policy as Human Rights Issue

Romanian Adoption Policy Examined as Human Rights Issue

Congressional panel criticizes EU adoption ban pressure on Bucharest

By Jeffrey Thomas
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Contemporary child development research shows unequivocally that placing infants in hospital or orphanage care for longer than 4-6 months permanently damages them in terms of their cognitive, emotional and behavioral development, an expert witness told a congressional hearing September 14.

“A reasonable estimate is that an infant loses 1-2 IQ points per month and sustains predictable losses in growth as well as motor and language development between 4 and 24 months of age while living in an institutional environment,” said the witness, Dr. Dana Johnson, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota and director of the International Adoption Clinic.

Dr. Johnson’s testimony underscored why the United States Helsinki Commission – a body that monitors human rights issues – was holding a hearing on the impact of Romania’s newly implemented ban on intercountry adoptions, a ban characterized by the commission’s chairman as “undeniably a human rights abuse.”

The European Union (EU) also came in for heavy criticism by commission members because of the role it has played in pressuring Romania to adopt the new law.

Commission Co-chairman Christopher Smith opened the hearing by providing a brief overview of the problem. As a legacy of Nicolae Ceaucescu’s dictatorial rule, the abandonment of children has been a serious problem in Romania for decades.

Smith cited UNICEF statistics that 9,000 children each year are abandoned in Romania’s maternity wards or pediatric hospitals, 66 percent of them minority Roma children. “Each year, 1,000 children are adopted domestically while 8,000 children in Romania are being sentenced to a life without knowing family or a parent’s love,” he said.

In 2001, under pressure from the European Union, Romania declared a moratorium on international adoptions, Smith said. In 2004, Romania enacted a new law on adoptions that effectively bans international adoptions. “This law is based on the misguided proposition that a foster family, or even an institution, is preferable to an adoptive family outside the child’s country of birth,” said Smith, a Republican congressman from New Jersey.

Since the declaration of the moratorium in 2001 and the enactment of the new law in 2004, approximately 1,700 international adoptions were registered with the Romanian government but left hanging, including more than 200 with American families, some of whom were in the hearing room.

Maura Harty, the State Department’s assistant secretary for consular affairs, said the United States is “committed to fostering an international environment for intercountry adoptions that protects the interests of orphaned and abandoned children, their birth parents, and American families.”

The assistant secretary expressed “great disappointment” that the United States has failed to make any real progress on the adoption cases filed during the moratorium despite the fact that President Bush raised the issue with Romanian President Traian Basescu in March and other American officials have raised it at every opportunity.

“Romanian officials have offered many promises, but there has been little or no follow-through,” Harty said.

“The Romanian Government has asserted that its adoption law and its failure to proceed with pending cases are being driven by concerns over Romanian accession to the European Union,” she said, adding that the State Department has sought clarification from the EU on its stance toward Romania’s adoption legislation.

“You can be sympathetic with Romania’s need to join the European Union and still recognize that these adoption laws are deeply damaging to the lives of thousands of children,” said Helsinki Commission Co-chair Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas. “There has to be a better and more humane way to deal with this problem, and I urge the EU and Romania to sit down and take seriously the fate of thousands of innocent children and loving families.”

The European Commission was invited to send a representative to testify at the hearing but declined to attend, according to Co-chairman Smith.

“This is a humanitarian issue, a child welfare issue,” Harty concluded. She said she was flying to Europe in just a few hours to seek clarity on this issue.

Sorin Ducaru, Romania's ambassador to the United States, read a statement on the issue that he said had been carefully drafted by his government. According to his statement, the new law effectively banning international adoption “was drafted together with a group of European Commission experts that provided permanent consultancy, taking into consideration the provisions of UN Convention on the child’s rights, the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and … European practices in the field.”

Chairman Smith disputed that Romania’s new adoption law “comports in any way” with the Hague Convention. “The best interest of the child is to find a loving home,” he said.

“Romania needs the backbone to say to the EU we care more about our children than about accession,” he added.

The other panelists included Thomas Atwood, President & CEO, National Council for Adoption; Debra Murphy-Scheumann, President of the Board of Directors, Joint Council on International Children’s Services; and Elliot Forsyth, who is waiting to adopt a Romanian child.

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