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Report: Children Still Housed, Abused In Romanian Institutions
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 10, 2006

TIMISOARA, ROMANIA--On the eve of a decision over Romania's possible admission to the European Union, an international disability rights group has released a scathing report accusing the former Soviet state of continuing to segregate and neglect children with disabilities in isolated, rural institutions.

For its 43-page report, entitled "Romania's Segregation and Abuse of Infants and Children with Disabilities", the U.S.-based Mental Disability Rights International visited Romanian orphanages and psychiatric hospitals over an 18-month period.

While the Romanian government officially denies that children are held in such facilities, MDRI found 46 youths with disabilities, aged 7 to 17, housed inside a hidden unit at an adult psychiatric institution. Some of the children do not have identification papers, meaning that they officially do not exist.

MDRI director Eric Rosenthal said the children were "near death", that some were so malnourished that their skin would simply fall off their bodies. Some of the children had been permanently tied to their beds. Others had been tightly wrapped head-to-toe in bed sheets so they could not move.

One of the most distressing images in the report was that of a 17-year-old girl who weighed just 22 pounds and looked like she was just 5 years old.

"What I saw in Braila was the worst I have seen anywhere in the world. It was just an absolute horror," Rosenthal said.

MDRI found 62 babies who had been abandoned by their parents in another facility with just one nurse and three assistants to care for them.

"The eeriest thing about it was the near total silence," Rosenthal said. "And the staff said, 'We try our best, but we can't come to them when they cry.' So after a while they stop crying. They learn that there's no one there to take care of them."

Following up on MDRI's study, ABC-News traveled to Romania to visit another institution for people with significant disabilities, and found 20 children and adults, ages 10 to 24, all crammed into cribs in one tiny room. A nurse traveling with the production crew said the children probably did not have disabilities before they were brought into the facility.

Romanian health officials responded Wednesday by acknowledging that there are problems in caring for these children. However, they disputed MDRI's allegations of widespread neglect and abuse.

Last October, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that the number of children segregated in institutions in many nations within the former Soviet Union has stayed essentially the same since 1990.

Even though many children have either died or moved on to adult institutions, an estimated 317,000 children -- most with disabilities -- continue to be neglected and housed away from the community. Many Eastern European countries still follow the old Soviet policy of "defectology", which specifically called for segregating people with disabilities.

MDRI has released similar reports on facilities in Turkey, Peru, Kazoo, Mexico, Russia, Hungary and Uruguay.

"Disabled Children Confined and Abused in Romania" (ABC News)
Video: "Orphans 'Near Death' in Romania" (ABC News)
Report: "Romania’s Segregation and Abuse of Infants and Children with Disabilities" (Mental Disability Rights International)
"Romania Acknowledges Child Care Problems" (Associated Press via Newsday)
"EP member: international adoptions not a solution for institutionalized children" (Bucharest Daily News)

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