According to a survey supported by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF and carried out in over 150 medical institutions, around 4,000 newborn babies were abandoned in Romanian maternity hospitals immediately after delivery in 2004, or 1.8% of all newborns.
The Situation of Child Abandonment in Romania report finds that many of the mothers who abandon their children are very young, poorly educated and living in extreme poverty. The percentage of abandoned babies who are born underweight (34%) is four times higher than the norm for Romania (8.5%).
“Unfortunately, young mothers going into hospitals are confronted with conservative attitudes and practices. The system remains very traditional and penalizes the poor and marginalized,” says Pierre Poupard, UNICEF Representative in Romania.
The report comes hot on the heels of new child protection legislation in Romania, which came into force on 1 January. It calls for speedy implementation of the new legislation, which promotes an holistic approach to child protection, with responsibilities shared across sectors such as health, education and social welfare and integrated services within communities.
Demonstrating the need for such services, the report cites the confusion of a 17 year-old single mother who did not know where to go or what to do with her baby after giving birth in a maternity hospital. Far from helping her, she says, “a nurse told me that it would be better not to see the child too much, to leave him there and start a new life, and try not to get attached to him, because otherwise it will get difficult for the child”.
The Situation of Child Abandonment in Romania report follows a commitment by UNICEF, the Government and NGOs to identify the problem, reveal its underlying causes and suggest solutions to drastically reduce the phenomenon and its consequences. The findings confirm that this challenge is not insurmountable and, though complex, can be overcome.
Young unmarried mothers, for example, who face disapproval from their families, need support to take on their new responsibilities, including access to community services. Mothers without shelter or living in poor conditions who decide to leave their children in pediatric hospitals for protection are unaware of the negative impact of long-term separation from families.
The report recommends urgent action on birth registration, in line with the child’s right to a name, nationality and a family. Because of gaps in the birth registration system, a striking 31.8% of children abandoned in pediatric hospitals have no identity papers. This makes them “invisible” in legal terms, and therefore extremely vulnerable to such dangers as trafficking.
Finally, it calls for the development of appropriate indicators and effective monitoring and evaluation measures to ensure steady improvements in the quality of basic services for children and families – a bulwark against child abandonment.
“The new legislation is in line with the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and UNICEF stands ready to play its part,” says Poupard. “We are offering support to the institutions that will be putting the new legislation into practice, and for desperate situations – such as the institution housing more than 230 children under one year of age - we can immediately support individual evaluations and develop tailor-made plans to protect each child. We will also help Romania develop what we call a protective environment for all children – an environment that shields all children from this kind of harm in the same way that good nutrition and health care shield them from disease.”
The Situation of Child Abandonment in Romania report will be launched (in Romanian only) by UNICEF Representative Pierre Poupard at the UNICEF offices in Bucharest at 11.00 (local time) on Thursday, 20 January.
For further information, please contact:
Angela Hawke, UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS and the Baltics, Tel: + 41 22 909 5433
Codruta Hedesiu, UNICEF Bucharest: Tel: +4021 201 7864