Since populists deposed and executed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu last December, the results of one of his cruellest decrees have become painfully clear in the West. In 1966, he made abortion illegal for any woman under 45 unless she had given birth to at least four children. That quota, intended to supply the army and workforce, rose to five in 1989. Now, Canadians and other visiting foreigners who want to adopt Romanian orphans are witnessing the consequences of Ceau§escu’s policy. In more than 250 Romanian institutions, an estimated 100,000 children, many of them suffering from AIDS because of unsterile hypodermic needles, are kept in conditions that witnesses describe as squalid and inhumane. After inspecting four orphanages and two hospitals, Mary Lynne Conzelman, director of development for the Scarborough, Ont.-based Christian Children’s Fund of Canada, said that she saw as many as 22 children crowded into eight-foot-by-10-foot rooms with barred windows. Added Conzelman: “When you look into these children’s eyes, you see death.” But prospective adoptive parents have reported major delays in their efforts to extricate the children from the Romanian bureaucracy.
When the problems of the orphans became known in the West, people began to apply to adopt them, and interest has grown steadily.
No official figures are available, but according to Conzelman and representatives of similar agencies, by the end of July, 10 Canadian couples had succeeded in adopting 13 Romanian children and returning with them. Dozens more Canadians and an estimated 2,500 people from other countries are now in Romania negotiating the bureaucratic labyrinth of the new regime. Meanwhile, on July 31, the Romanian parliament eased regulations that formerly required all adoption papers to be signed by the president himself. Now, district court judges have such authorization.
Conzelman says that most orphans in good health have already found homes in the West or have at least been selected for adoption after medical examinations and document processing. The efforts of agencies including the Christian Children’s Fund, World Vision, UNICEF and Samaritan’s Purse are focused on the care of the tens of thousands of mentally and physically handicapped still in Romanian institutions. Said Conzelman: “They could be normal children, but they have been abused by neglect.” She added that, under the former regime’s policy, if a child appeared abnormal at age 3—“and that could mean a child just rocking itself’—a state official would label the youngster “irrecuperable and unsalvageable,” and order it shipped to an asylum. Said Conzelman: “They could be there until they die.”
The relief effort, which Conzelman equates to the West’s reaction to the famine in Ethiopia, is building. In January, her agency sent more than $500,000 in medical supplies, clothing and vegetable seeds to the illequipped and understaffed asylums. The Christian Children’s Fund plans a TV fund-raising campaign for later this month, and dozens of other drives for food, medical supplies and equipment are under way around the world.
The organization that has attracted the greatest amount of publicity and funding is the Romanian Angel Appeal, founded by Olivia Harrison, Linda McCartney and Barbara Bach, all wives of former Beatles, John Len-
non’s widow, Yoko Ono, and rock star Elton John. Their group has raised $2.35 million in Britain. And at the end of July, Warner Bros, released Nobody’s Child, a record album organized by George Harrison and Elton John. The album features the Travelling Wilburys, Guns N’ Roses, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, the Bee Gees and other stars. All profits from the album’s sales will go to the Romanian Angel Appeal.
While funding campaigns accelerate, about 100 Canadians have been awaiting reports on their hoped-for adoptions. One couple, Beverley and Ross Johnston of Clearbrook, B.C., received permission late last week to adopt a dark-haired, dark-eyed little girl, 21/2 years old, and a sandy-haired, blue-eyed boy aged 3V2. Ross Johnston, 40, the senior pastor of the Abbotsford Church of the Nazarene, who waited in Romania since the middle of July for officials to complete work on adoption documents, had sent home photographs of the children. Said Beverley Johnston, 41, waiting with the couple’s seven-year-old adopted daughter, Heidi: “I look at their pictures and I just want to have them here and hug them. This whole thing is not for the faint of heart.” Meanwhile, Arnold Magnussen, a 33-yearold logger from Ucluelet, B.C., has been waiting for his wife to return from Romania with their third child, two-year-old Alexandra. When Cheryl Magnussen, 30, found her in an orphanage in June, the child was malnourished, weighed only 20 lb. and spent most of her time in her crib. Finally, last Friday, Cheryl was able to tell her husband by phone that she and Alexandra would be joining the adoptive father and two brothers within a few days. Then, Alexandra Magnussen will join the numbers of Romanian children in the West who are living testimony to the cruelty of a system that is now part of the ashes of history.
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