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Press Release

From Baroness Nicholson, MEP



"Romania has fundamentally reformed its child protection system and has gone from having the worst system in Europe to developing one of the best.  Countries like Ukraine, which are struggling with child protection issues, can perhaps learn something from Romania's experience."

This was a statement made yesterday by Baroness Emma Nicholson, MEP for S.E. England and international campaigner for children's rights.  Although the Baroness is now generous with her praise, she was one of Romania's harshest critics in the European Parliament - warning Romania's leaders that if they didn't stop the trade in inter-country adoption its accession to the EU would be blocked.  

"For many years now," said the Baroness, "I have been observing the gradual reform of Romania's child care system.  Often the process has been agonizingly slow and, in the case of inter-country adoptions, deeply corrupting.  But successive Romanian governments have been getting it right and this year marks a culmination of the reform process with a new law on child rights which not only bans inter-country adoptions but opens up the possibility of finding local solutions for children who are separated from their families.  You only have to look at the statistics to see what tremendous progress they have made." 

Ten years ago there were over 100,000 children living in Romanian institutions, many of which were sub-standard. Huge efforts have gone into finding family-based alternatives for these children and over 60 of these institutions have been closed.  Now there are less than 34,000 children in residential care, and most of these are teenagers and those with special needs; in other words they are hard to place in foster or family care.  Another 50,000 children are in the care of the state - but with foster families and relatives (extended families).

Ten years ago there were no foster families in Romania.  Now there are over 12,000, which is one of the highest rates in Eastern Europe.

"Show me any country in Europe that has made such progress," said the Baroness, "cutting the number of institutionalised children by 50% in less than ten years is a tremendous achievement and requires massive effort by all levels of government.  Romania is ahead of other countries in the region in terms of its reforms and even has less infants in public institutions than established EU members like France."

Romania has also managed to tackle the inter-country adoption problem in a way that may be of interest to other countries which are struggling with this phenomenon.  Although inter-country adoptions were supposed to help develop social services in Romania, they ended up undermining them.  The Baroness explains:

"Despite intense pro-adoption lobbying from around the world, Romania has managed to maintain its ban on inter-country adoption, a process which had become corrupted by unscrupulous middlemen.  I applaud Romania's stance on this issue and I think they deserve praise for standing up to the powerful and well organized inter-country adoption lobby.  I also think that the other countries which are struggling with this issue, such as Ukraine and Russia, have something to learn from the successful Romanian experience.  I applaud the fact that the Russian Parliament has called for a moratorium on inter-country adoptions and that the issue is finally being debated there. I am also very concerned about reports from Ukraine that children are disappearing from maternity hospitals in mysterious circumstances."

Unfortunately the media seem to be unaware of Romania's progress in reforming its child protection system, and news editors continue to use Romania as a convenient location for horror type stories when it comes to children.  For example, the New York Times published an article in June which stated that there were 10,000 babies abandoned in hospitals every year in Romania.   

"When I saw these figures in the New York Times I smelt a rat," said the Baroness, "and I was determined to investigate.  Research subsequently uncovered the truth: only 4,600 children had been left by their parents in hospitals and over half of these were subsequently taken home by their own parents.  By the end of last year there were less than 500 so-called abandoned babies in Romanian hospitals.  But I can't blame the New York Times for this mistake; they were supplied with bad research by the Romanian branch of UNICEF."

Despite all this progress Romania is still facing tremendous challenges and the problems of poverty, domestic violence, drugs and lack of public funds remain acute. 

According to the Baroness, "Romania has made that transition from a country which is denying it has social problems to a country which is struggling to deal with them.  I am impressed with the level of public debate that I see in the Romanian media on these issues.  Indeed, the Romanian media keep the government under continual pressure to improve -- and this is not a characteristic of a tinpot country.  It is what happens in all developed countries."

Media representatives are encouraged to have another look at Romania and to consider the reforms that have taken place - and not only in the child protection sector.  Much progress has also been made in terms of economic development.  Of particular interest is the manufacturing, steel and IT sectors, as well as tourism.

More information on these issues can be supplied upon request, and study visits to Romania can be arranged.



Press enquiries: Brett Gregory Peake, Media Advisor, London, + 44 207 087 8003/+ 44 7765 890 990

Note to editors:

Baroness Emma Nicholson is the MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for South East England and is a member of the European Liberal Democrats.  Her website address is www.emmanicholson.org.uk

She is currently Vice President of the Committee of Foreign Affairs at the European Parliament, as well as shadow Rapporteur for Romania for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe.

Prior to the last European Election Baroness Nicholson was the European Parliament's Rapporteur for Romania

In December 2002, Baroness Nicholson was voted "MEP of the year" in a poll conducted by the Brussels-based Newspaper European Voice

For more details on Romania's new law on child rights, as well as other legislative initiatives, please refer to the website of the National Authority for the Protection of Child Rights: www.copii.ro



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