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IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILDREN? ROMANIA'S BAN ON INTER-COUNTRY
SEPTEMBER 14, 2005
COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE
The Commission met in room 2237, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, at 10 a.m., Hon. Christopher H. Smith, CoChairman, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presiding.
Commissioners present: Hon. Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairman; Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, Ranking Member; Hon. Joseph R. Pitts; and Hon. Richard M. Burr.
Members present: Hon. Jeb Bradley, Member of Congress (NH1) and Hon. Anne M. Northup, Member of Congress (KY-3).
Witnesses present: Hon. Maura Harty, Assistant Secretary Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State; His Excellency Sorin Ducaru, Ambassador of Romania to the United States; Elliot Forsyth, prospective adoptive parent; Debra Murphy-Scheumann, President Board of Directors, Joint Council on International Children's Services; Dr. Dana Johnson, Director, International Adoption Clinic, University of Minnesota; and Thomas Atwood, President and CEO, National Council for Adoption. STATEMENT OF HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, CO-CHAIRMAN, COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE
Mr. SMITH. The hearing will come to order, and good morning, everybody. In 1989, the world watched in horror as images emerged from Romania of more than 100,000 underfed, neglected children living in hundreds of squalid and inhumane institutions throughout the country.
Six weeks after the end of the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, I and members of my staff, Dorothy Taft and Dennis Curry, who is working on my subcommittee staff, the Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee, who was then working in Romania, actually went to those various orphanages throughout Bucharest. We saw children lined up by the dozens, who had been neglected. Hard-pressed workers were trying to help those children. The visions of that, and as the father of four myself, I was greatly moved to look at those little children who weren't even being turned with regularity, weren't having their
diapers changed, and weren't being nurtured in the way that a child should be helped.
They were the littlest victims of Ceausescu's policies, which undermined the family and fostered the belief that children were often better cared for in an institution rather than by their families.
American citizens responded to this humanitarian crisis with an outpouring of compassion. For years now Americans have opened their hearts, their checkbooks, and have committed their vacation days offering their own labor to help Romania improve conditions in these institutions.
Many families also opened their hearts to one or more of these children through adoption. Between 1990 and 2004, 8,213 Romanian children found permanent families in the United States, and thousands of others joined families in Western Europe.
The legacies of Ceausescu's rule continue to haunt Romania and, when coupled with widespread poverty, have led to a continued abandonment of Romanian children. According to a March 2005 report by UNICEF, “Child abandonment in 2003 and 2004 in Romania was no different from that occurring 10, 20, and 30 years ago."
UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children a year are abandoned in Romania's maternity wards or pediatric hospitals. According to the European Union, 37,000 children remain in institutions. Nearly 49,000 more live in non-permanent settings in foster care or with extended families. An unknown number of children live on the streets.
As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Romanian Government agreed in 1990 to the Copenhagen Document, that would “accord particular attention to the recognition of the rights of the child, his civil rights, and his individual freedom, his economic, social, and cultural rights, and his right to special protection against all forms of violence and exploitation.
Romania agreed further to "recognize in their domestic legislation the rights of the child as affirmed in the international agreements to which they are parties.” Romania is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and, equally important, it is a party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
Our distinguished witnesses will provide their analyses of whether Romania is fulfilling its commitments under these conventions.
Sadly, the corruption which has plagued Romania's economy and governance has also seeped into its adoption system.
The corruption needed to be rooted out. By using corruption as the hook, the question of Romania's institutionalized children came under the scrutiny of an avowed foe of intercountry adoption, Baroness Emma Nicholson.
As a member of the European Parliament who, until recently, served as rapporteur for Romania's accession to the European Union, Lady Nicholson proudly asserts that she has “led the fight against the trade in children known as intercountry adoption.”
I would just note here parenthetically that I am the prime sponsor of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as well as the 2003 reiteration of that act and expansion, and the legislation that likely will be marked up tomorrow, that will further expand U.S.
efforts to try to mitigate and end the human slavery known as human trafficking:
So I take a back seat to no one in trying to fight the scourge of trafficking of anyone_children, newborns, women, or anyone else. But adoption is not trafficking.
Let me continue. Lady Nicholson stated, "It was a mistake from the beginning to assume that for a child"--and I find this very odious, but this is her quote"a foreign adoptive family is better than a family which cannot care for him or her," and she says this is totally false.
Lady Nicholson has no facts to support her allegations as to the dire fate of children adopted internationally, and indeed her allegations have been refuted by UNICEF.
Lady Nicholson's position as rapporteur allowed her to pressure the Romanian Government into declaring a moratorium on international adoptions in 2001 and in June 2004 to enact a law banning intercountry adoption except in the case of biological grandparents living outside the country.
Romania's new law on adoptions, and others addressing child protection, create a hierarchy of placement for abandoned children, including domestic adoption, foster care, and institutionalization. This law is based upon the misguided proposition that a foster family or even an institution is preferable to an adoptive family outside the child's country of birth.
Sadly, Romanian children are domestically adopted each year, the remaining 8,000 abandoned children yearly have been sentenced to a life in foster care, usually in large group homes, or in institutions.
Denial of a permanent family will fall hardest on the Roma children, who are least likely to be adopted in-country due to pervasive societal prejudice against the Roma minority.
Prior to enactment of the anti-adoption law, approximately 1,700 adoption cases were registered with the Romanian Government. Of these, 200 children have been matched with adoptive parents in the United States and the remainder with parents in Western Europe.
Dozens of these waiting parents are in this hearing room today. I welcome you and I thank you for traveling to be here with us today. They have come from across the United States to let the president, President Basescu, know that they are still waiting to adopt their children.
Many other prospective adoptive parents have contacted the Helsinki Commission. One couple, Peter and Julie Heisey, are Americans who live in Timisoara, Romania. They have cared for a little girl in their home since 2001, when she was 10 days old. The baby's biological mother was not able to keep her, and the biological mother's stepfather threatened to throw the baby out into the street.
The Heiseys began the process of adopting this child years ago. They have jumped through virtually every bureaucratic hoop, including several months of officials from the child protection service trying to get the birth mother to visit the child in their home, only to finally acknowledge that she had no interest at all in caring for the child.
This child has been in the Heiseys' home for virtually all of the 4-years of her life and knows no other parents. The Heiseys are devoted to her, want her to be their daughter forever, and now are told that because of the new law on adoption, this will never be.
The Tolleson family from Arkansas also wrote us about an 11year-old girl named Andrea that they have been trying to adopt for 5 years. They talk to Andrea every Saturday. As any loving parent would do, they send letters and packages to her, and she sends them drawings that they display in their home. They have traveled to Romania twice to be with her.
Andrea spent the first 4 years of her life in the maternal hospital where she was abandoned at birth. When she was 4, the government sent her back to her biological family, who for a month left her alone in the dark in their shantyhouse, without adequate food and attention. Eventually, near death, Andrea was taken back to the hospital. At age 5 she was moved into her current orphanage.
This hearing today asks the question: How can it possibly be in the best interest of these children to deny them the chance to grow up in families who love them so much and want them? Within the next week I will introduce a resolution in Congress calling on the Romanian Government to process these pipeline cases and to reverse their anti-adoption law.
Who in the European Union will stand with Members of Congress to protect these defenseless children? All children deserve better than to spend their lives in group homes or warehoused in institutions where their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being is critically endangered. It is indeed tragic if the price of admission to the European Union is the sacrifice of thousands of Romanian children.
I'd like to now yield to my good friend and colleague, Mr. Cardin, for any opening comments he might have.
STATEMENT OF HON. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, RANKING MEMBER, COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION
This is exactly what the Helsinki Commission should be doing. The OSCE operates through a consensus process. Each of the countries that are part of the Helsinki process have agreed to certain commitments, and it gives any member state the right, indeed the obligation, to challenge actions in any country that we believe are inconsistent with the commitments and the spirit of the OSCE
So, Chairman Smith, I thank you. You and I have talked about this, I think what the effectiveness of the Helsinki Commission has been in bringing up specific cases that we think are inconsistent with the obligations under the Helsinki Accords.
If you would permit, I'll put my full statement in the record, and let me just summarize, if I might.
Ambassador Harty, I want to welcome you here and thank you for your work.
And I know that we have a distinguished panel of people who know firsthand what is happening in Romania, and we thank you all for being here.
As Chairman Smith has noted, it's been over 15 years since the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, and none of us will ever forget the faces of the children that we saw when the regime came down. I want to thank the people in the international community for coming to the rescue of the children in Romania.
We had over 8,000 families here in America since 1990 that have adopted Romanian children, and that was the right response, to open up the families and hearts internationally to rescue children. It was in their best interest, and we did the right thing.
We are also very proud of the reforms that have taken place in Romania over that period of time. It hasn't been easy. Chairman Smith and I have both been to Romania, and we've seen firsthand the difficult challenges and the political challenges. But Romania has been on a course of reform that we think is the right way to reform their political and economic system and open up their system to review on human rights issues.
And we also understand concerns on international adoptions. We understand those concerns and, certainly, the right to protect children from being abused.
But I want to just underscore the point that Chris Smith has made.
This nation has been in the forefront of protecting children from trafficking. Chris Smith has been the leader in our nation on preventing children from being abused through trafficking. So we understand firsthand concerns and have been in the forefront and leadership.
But the bottom line on children who currently do not have permanent homes—and in Romania today, as I understand it, it's in excess of 80,000 children that we know of that are not in permanent homes—about half are in institutions, half are in what is here called foster care, and there's a dire need for permanent family placement.
We also understand that there are hundreds of pending cases where matches have been made, that are in the pipeline, in regards to adoptions here in the United States and thousands internationally.
So we have concern about this new law and the motivation of this new law. We believe it has a lot to do with the pressure within the European community, and we just think that's wrong.
We believe that Romania must adopt laws that protect children in adoption; we have no problem with that. But the question is whether the law is focused on what's in the best interests of the children or whether it's politically motivated and will harm children within Romania.
So that's the framework in which we're holding this hearing. I look forward to hearing what we're doing in the State Department, I look forward to hearing the experts, and I agree with Chairman Smith: I think it's important for our Commission to speak out as to what Romania should be doing in order to protect what's in the best interests of the children of their country.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SMITH. Commissioner Cardin, thank you very much for your eloquent statement and for your leadership.