A law restricting international adoptions took effect in Romania on 1 January. Families in the United States hope the country's new authorities will review in-process adoption cases that were frozen by an EU-inspired moratorium imposed in 2001.
(Press Review - 03/01/05; AP, The Boston Globe, The Scotsman, Nobody's Children - 01/01/05; Press Review - 31/12/04; AFP - 18/10/04; Joint Council on International Children's Services)
International adoptions of Romanian orphans can only take place if all other channels have failed, according to the new law. [AFP]
Ending a more than three-year moratorium, a new law has entered into force in Romania providing for the resumption of international adoptions. The highly restrictive legislation, seeking to eliminate perceived abuses of child welfare, has sparked controversy among families in the United States trying to adopt Romanian children. Some have voiced hope that their cases, which were blocked by the moratorium imposed under EU pressure in 2001, will be reviewed after the recent political changes in the Balkan country.
The law, which was adopted by the Romanian Parliament last June, but took effect on Saturday (1 January), establishes a new Office for Adoptions as the only institution allowed to co-ordinate adoption procedures in the country.
The legislation restricts international adoptions to biological grandparents. Setting domestic adoptions as a priority, it allows foreigners to adopt Romanian children only if the steps taken to place them under the care of local families have failed. International adoptions of children under the age of two are also prohibited.
Furthermore, the law prohibits foundations from acting as intermediaries in the adoption process, but allows the involvement of authorised foreign associations. The NGOs' possible role in the process is limited to the provision of protection services in placing children under the care of families and parental assistants, or to actions aimed at their reintegration with their families.
The law has sparked protests among American families whose adoption cases were in the pipeline when Romania banned international adoptions in 2001, following a strongly critical report by Baroness Emma Nicholson, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Romania, and subsequent demands by EU officials.
Condemning what she described as a "profitable trade in child trafficking", Nicholson criticised authorities for "persistent abandonment of children, child abuse and neglect" and even charged officials with selling babies. Describing the country's childcare system as corrupt "from top to bottom", she warned that failure to overhaul the system could hurt Romania's chances for joining the EU.
Acting on behalf of American families, whose applications to adopt 250 Romanian children were frozen as the ban was enforced, US President George W. Bush raised the issue with Romanian leaders who visited Washington in July, weeks after the new law was adopted.
An international children's relief foundation, meanwhile, has protested the legislation, saying it will not allow families to be united. "It is cruel and unfair to the thousands of children and parents internationally who were assigned before the current moratorium," says Nobody's Children.
During a visit to Bucharest in October, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin spoke about the creation of a commission to review international adoptions of Romanian children. Around 50 French couples are said to be among the hundreds of foreign families waiting for their adoption applications to be processed.
Pushing for a solution, another body, the Joint Council on International Children's Services, met with senior US officials in mid-December, also calling for the establishment of such a commission comprising "objective advisers who will offer technical advice on how cases can be processed in an equitable, transparent and ethical manner".
Many Western families that were affected by the moratorium on international adoptions now hope that the new Romanian authorities -- and President Traian Basescu in particular -- will take steps to process the pending cases and improve their whole adoption process.