Corruption in international adoptions

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NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

Adoption: Romania

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Number of US Orphan Immigrant Visas Issued to Romania, FY 1990-2008

News reports of adoption irregularities in Romania

Below are some news articles compiled by the Schuster Institute about adoptions from Romania.

Fostering Interest,” Brian Douglas, April 16, 2008, Vivid.

“Romania urged to resume intercountry adoptions,” Paul Ciocoiu, January 16, 2007, Southeast European Times.

“Renault's Children,” November 11, 2006, ZIUA.

"Romania's orphans – millions of euro at stake," October 9, 2006.

“Report: Babies for sale in Romania,” Mike Carney, September 29, 2006, USA Today.

Reports on an investigation by Britain’s ITV news show, which reveals that despite Romania’s 2001 ban on international adoptions, parents and predators are still selling babies. “One woman said she paid off her house with the money she made selling a baby to Americans, and then offered to sell the reporter her youngest child for $10,000.”

"USAID and Child Welfare Reform in Romania," for USAID by Aguirre International, July 2006.

Report includes history of USAID involvement in Romania's child welfare, presenting problems, approach, process, appraisal of the USAID's address of child welfare reform, and includes suggestions for moving forward.

"Bradley asks EU assembly members to push Romanian adoptions," April 18, 2006, Associated Press.

“Romania hails orphanage success story,” Ian Traynor, December 3, 2005, The UK Guardian.

Reports on Bucharest’s Sfintul Andrei day-care center, which offers a stark contrast to the squalid orphanages Romania had just a decade ago. Quotes a Romanian official as saying that the new child welfare system has found families for the formerly institutionalized children. To prevent abandonment, day care centers offer 11 hours of free day care—and allow the children to go home at night. At the beginning of 2005, Romania banned international adoption, ending its status as a magnet for Westerners seeking newborns. Powerful American adoption lobbies are pushing the US government to demand that Romania reopen adoption. The ban came after Romania’s international adoptions developed into a highly corrupt trade in babies lubricated by tens of millions of dollars which experts say hindered the development of social services and child protection policies. Doctors, officials, nurses, and social workers made money from adoption and encouraged young mothers to abandon their newborns.

Quotes a Romanian official as objecting to the pressure from the West to allow adoptions. He also said that deflecting that pressure took away from the efforts to build a functioning child protection system. “They tell us, 'You can't take care of your children, you don't love your children, you're too poor.' It's a lack of respect." Reports that less than a decade ago, 100,000 children were in institutions. The public child care system is now looking after 82,000 children, 50,000 of whom are returned to their parents or extended families at night or are in foster care. Of the 32,000 still in institutions, four out of five are teenagers.

“Romanian suing Canadian couple over adoption,” February 17, 2005.

“British men falsify paternity to adopt Romanian babies,” Michael Leidig, October 9, 2004, The London Daily Telegraph.

Red light on human traffic,” Emma Nicholson, July 1, 2004, The UK Guardian.

“EU forces Romania into ban on foreign adoptions,” Harry de Quetteville, June 17, 2004, London Daily Telegraph.

Romania passes a law effectively ending foreign adoption as part of their effort to join the EU, which had suggested that the country’s adoption system was too corrupt and amounted to trafficking. American adoption agencies objected. Romanian child protection officials said that although the sale of children abroad was suspended in 2000, many foreign adoption agencies simply bypassed local authorities, offering cash directly to impoverished parents.

“Romania to make its ban on international adoptions permanent,” Noelle Knox, June 16, 2004, USA Today.

Since 2001 Romania has had a temporary ban on international adoption, and the “Romanian government passed a controversial law Tuesday that will forbid foreigners from adopting any of the country's 84,000 orphans.” The US tried to stop the legislation, but the Romanian government succumbed to pressure from the European Union and agreed that the only way to end the “rampant corruption in the system was to end international adoption.”

“Child Traffickers prey on Romania,” Jon Swain and Ann McElhinney, May 9, 2004, Times Online.

“Romania Pulled Two Ways Over Adoption Abroad,” May 5, 2004, UK Guardian.

“Romanian is not breaking the Hague Convention,” May 1, 2004, ZIUA.

“Selling Children,” April 26, 2004, ZIUA.

Romania, let your children go,” Richard Armitage, April 24, 2004, The International Herald Tribune.

“Romanian Senate passes bill on international adoptions,” Mediafax news agency, April 15, 2004, BBC Worldwide Monitoring.

A new draft law was passed on legal regimes of adoption, “consisting of new provisions referring to the domestic and international adoption, according to international conventions in the field.” The draft law includes new analyses of the case of each child to be adopted, and “regulates the situations and the procedure by means of which a child can be adopted.”

“Tragic twins 'were not orphans'," March 23, 2004, BBC News.

“Romanian parliament rejects motion blaming government over adoptions,” Mediafax news agency, March 2, 2004, BBC Worldwide Monitoring.

A motion pushed by the Greater Romania Party to blame the government for the situation created over international adoption was rejected by the Romanian parliament. Article states that during the current government only a few international adoptions have taken place while from 1997-2000 there were 10,000 international adoptions.

“Romanian premier: EU 'double standard' on adoption 'inconvenient,'” Rompres News Agency, February 5, 2004, BBC Worldwide Monitoring.

Premier Adrian Nastase stated that Romania’s government is against international adoption and that “they would adopt new regulations that would no longer allow any exception to the moratorium banning these procedures.” Nastase said that he was under the impression that children had to be given a chance to be adopted abroad because of the difficult conditions in Romania but that this is not the solution desired by Romanian society anymore. The article states that the head of the government in Romania thinks that Romania is able to solve the problems connected to these children on its own.

“Romania cornered by foreigners in international adoptions – president,” Rompres News Agency, January 28, 2004, BBC Worldwide Monitoring.

“President Ion Iliescu said that Romania has been cornered by diverging interests in the case of international adoptions,” as there are some who want Romania to lift the ban on international adoption as soon as possible while others do not. EU Rapporteur for Romania Baroness Emma Nicholson is against lifting the ban and the president agreed that Romania should be able to keep its own children. President Iliescu said that George W. Bush asked him about the ban and “had information from some senators that their voters were waiting for the children whose adoption procedures had been already started when ban was enforced.”

"As another baby leaves the country, 'say goodbye Romania, bye-bye'!," Ann McElhinney, May 7, 2003, The Irish Times. (Requires subscription.)

“Romania extends ban on international child adoptions by one week,” Rompres News Agency, February 21, 2003, BBC Worldwide Monitoring.

“Following talks with European Commission officials, Romania committed itself to keep the moratorium on international adoptions until child protection legislation is adopted,” and therefore the government has asked for another extension of the ban on international adoptions. The government argues that it has “not been able to finalize the child protection legislative package.” Romanian and Brussels authorities have agreed to keep the ban on international adoptions until the child protection laws are adopted.

“Romania lifts lid on babies for sale racket,” Kate Connolly, October 31, 2001, The UK Guardian.

A Romanian government commission set up to combat widespread corruption in the international adoption business, and the suspected maltreatment of children and babies, has uncovered a "catalogue of horrors", involving global child trafficking rings, drugged babies and stolen identities. Thousands of Romanian children placed in orphanages set up by the late communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, are believed to have been trafficked abroad in the past 12 years. Mothers of newborns were defrauded of their babies. The commission found that money offered for the babies, which was supposed to finance children’s homes, was siphoned off by middlemen and officials. Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase and Lady Nicholson, a member of the European Parliament, are working to develop an in-country solution to the needs of Romanian children.

“SHE IS OUR GIRL TOO; Romanian foster parents of tug-of-love Mihaela tracked down by The Irish Mirror,” August 29, 2001, The Irish Mirror ($: paid subscription).

“Buy a baby, save a life,” Polly Toynbee October 1, 1996, The Independent.

“Romania to allow adoptions again,” Phinjo Gombu, January 14, 1992, The Toronto Star.

After reforming its adoption system, Romania has announced plans to lift its ban on international adoption in May. However, adoptive parents have their doubts, and are concerned that the new process will be too burdensome. One spokesperson feared that children will have to wait longer to be placed in adoptive homes.

 "The majority of adoptive parents are coming back to America with infants and newborns, and about half of them are not from institutions," says the American consul general in Bucharest, Virginia Young. "To my knowledge we've not issued an immigrant visa to a single severely handicapped child."

“Baby-trading illegal,” August 5, 1991, The Toronto Star.

Romania outlawed selling babies, with a penalty of five years in jail. The Canadian embassy can now help to make sure that adoptions are ethical and legal.

“Ottawa can’t stop Canadians from buying Romanian babies,” Roger Bird, August 5, 1991, The Toronto Star

Canadian policies on international adoptions can’t stop Canadian couples from going abroad and purchasing a child for adoption. Canadian officials do not ask whether couples have paid for the child and if “bureaucratic requirements are satisfied,” the child is examined medically, receives a visa, and is sent to a new home.

“Foreigners ‘purchasing’ Romanian babies, U.N. told,” Dave Todd, August 1, 1991, The Toronto Star.

At the UN human rights commission’s “working group on contemporary forms of slavery,” Defense for Children International presented information about the thousands of Romanian children that have been sold to adoptive parents. Defense for Children is working to help Romania end illegal adoptions. The final figure reported is that the number of Romanian children that truly needed to be adopted is “likely to be in the range of 2,000 to 3,000. Yet, to date, at least 8,000 have been adopted abroad.” The number of children in institutions has decreased, but the demand for adoption continues.

“Adoption Laws Trap Americans In Romania; U.S. Denies Permits For Children to Leave,” May 23, 1991, The Washington Post.

“Shame of Romania’s ‘barter babies’,” Robin Harvey, March 31, 1991, The Toronto Star.

In Romania, adoptive families are paying excessive fees, parents are selling their children and the middle men, interpreters, drivers and lawyers, are profiting from it all. Because parents want to adopt healthy children the institutionalized orphans that tugged at the world’s heartstrings are being overlooked in the adoption process. Westerners have flown directly to Romania to adopt, using private consultants and the black-market, which are faster than adopting from institutions.

“The Romanian Baby Bazaar,” Kathleen Hunt, March 24, 1991, The New York Times.

In-depth investigation into the adoption industry that arose in Romania following the fall of the Communist-backed regime in 1989. Reports that, with the revelations about thousands of older handicapped children in horrifying institutions, many Westerners flocked to Romania to adopt. Ironically, those children are the last to be adopted. However, profiteers and “rings of local hustlers” turned adoption into a lucrative business.

Includes stories about baby brokers who take Westerners directly to Roma families or hospitals to solicit babies, complete with bargaining over a child’s price. Notes that in 1990, roughly 3,000 children were adopted out of Romania; in the first two months of 1991, 1,300 adoptions to the United States alone have been completed or are under way. Fees range from $2,500 to $15,000 and increasingly include a payment to the birth mother. But the supply of adoptable young babies is beginning to drop, just as demand is spiking. Most of the remaining children under three had the highly contagious hepatitis B virus or HIV. And “with the lifting of the abortion ban in December 1989, the hundreds of newborns once abandoned in Romanian maternity wards were suddenly reduced to a trickle.” 

“Romania cuts off foreign adoptions, Alan Ferguson, July 5, 1990, The Toronto Star.

Due to “public anger at revelations of a ‘babies-for-export’ racket” in Romania, officials there have put a hold on international adoptions. Canadians and other foreigners may have to wait up to three years. It is likely that foreign adoptions will be completely stopped after the nation’s baby selling has been exposed. Despite the high number of children being sold, there are still many children in Romania who are orphaned, more than the country can support.

“Year of the Child too late for kids stuck in Orphanage Number One,” Patrick Nagle, December 30, 1990, The Toronto Star.

A year after the execution of Romania’s former dictators, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, Romanian orphans are still facing plight and cannot get back the childhoods they have lost. The U.N.’s Year of the Child has begun to address these issues.

Resources & related documents

Jonathan Dickens is a senior lecturer in social work and director of the BA and MA in social work at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom. He lived in Romania for three years, where he studied the international aspects of social work and the impact of intercountry adoption on the Romanian child welfare system.

“The paradox of inter-country adoption: analyzing Romania’s experience as a sending country,” International Journal of Social Welfare 11.1, 2002: 76-83.

Study and analysis of how intercountry adoption affects the "sending country's" child welfare system. Dickens concludes that international adoption is not set up to meet the needs of the children or adoptive parents but to serve the international adoption agencies, domestic child-welfare systems, and international political interests. The country's child care legislation gives formal priority to domestic alternatives to institutional care. These alternatives include preventive services, family reunification, foster care and in-country adoption. The study concludes that in Romania, intercountry adoption remained a priority because of the large amounts of money to be earned through the international adoption business. Author also concludes that intercountry adoption does serve to secure some resources for in-country child welfare services, it paradoxically undermines the effectiveness of those services for the children who are left behind.

Romania: for export only blog is maintained by Roelie Post, author of Romania: For Export Only, The Untold Story of the Romanian 'Orphans'. In both blog and book, Post tracks Romania’s historical problems with intercountry adoption, saying that when Romania wanted to join the EU and had to close its intercountry adoption market, “a ferocious lobby stepped out.”

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Last page update: February 23, 2011