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Shifting Attentions

June 18, 1996|LYNN SMITH

The case of Romania illustrates how quickly the global marketplace for adoptable children can shift--with natural disasters, political revolutions or a country's social policies.

The 1990 fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu made the rest of the world aware that as many as 200,000 orphans were being warehoused in state institutions as a result of long-standing bans on birth control and abortion. After years of no recorded outside adoptions, 121 Romanian children were adopted by U.S. citizens that year. As Western media spread shocking reports of maltreatment, the adoptions soared to 2,552 in 1991.

Unprepared, the Romanians could not prevent a black market from developing. Consequently, adoptions were suspended while the new regime rewrote adoption laws--mainly to allow more time for birth parents to reclaim their children.

Now, adoptions are few because many of the remaining Romanian orphans are older children with severe disabilities, said Petru Popescu, a Romanian author now living in Los Angeles who helped write the country's revised adoption law. "The problem has moved into a secondary stage, in a sense a harder, less glamorous one, to prepare institutions and homes for them in Romania itself."

A British organization, FARA, has been working to upgrade supplies and skills at three orphanages in Romania's northeastern province of Succava.

Some philanthropists have sponsored children to come to the U.S. for badly needed operations and then return home. But in general, it has proved more difficult to raise charitable funds to care for the orphans than it was initially to attract childless couples to adopt them, Popescu said. "In a way," he said, "that moment of sympathy has passed."

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