Monday, April 13, 2009

Babies for sale

“Babies for sale” is the title of the documentary filmed by the British reporters. A whole world watched how Chris Rogers, reporter of ITV News, presented the way in which, in his opinion, foreigners can buy children in Romania. Four women appear in the footage as partners in the negotiations. The investigation was subsequently a basis for the address sent by Rogers to baroness Nicholson, signaling the “events” from Romania. Rogers claims he negotiated with several families and that the price for a child reached the sum of 10,000 dollars. Besides, this is not he only documentary made by Rogers in Romania. He is the author of a whole series of films about the situation of children in Romania, among which the one referring to the disabled children in placement centres.

Revolt in Hoghilag

On the famous lane in Hoghilag, any stranger is now met with anger. People fear another stranger coming to set them up a trap. After seeing themselves on TV, involved in negotiations of children sales, they expect anything. “Go away, I don’t want to talk to anybody, I don’t want you to film me! This is what happened last time, they said they wanted to talk and help us, and we found ourselves on TV.” The street resounds with the cries of the woman that Roger claimed she agreed to sell a child for 10,000 dollars. And she is not the only one revolted. The first reaction of the women here was to take their children and hide them indoors. They knew they had compromised themselves, that everyone thought them “wretches”.

“I want to sue him”

We found Irina in her courtyard. She was helping her husband with the house repairing. Her husband works at the town hall and, although it’s not easy at all, he manages to feed his family. “We’ve had our four children out of love, I wouldn’t sell my children not even for a sack of money. We are doing fine, my husband has a job, I manage around him. If I catch that guy, I don’t know where he is from; I don’t know what I would do to him. A whole country saw me; everybody is talking about something that’s not true. He asked me to let him take a photo and he told me he wanted to make a cassette for his wife to see what he did in Romania, for her not to think something else. I want to sue him because he lied and he used my baby, but I don’t know what I should do and how”, Irina says. In the meantime, the little Andreea, a three year old wonder, who was well being taken care of, in spite of the not exactly easy conditions in which they were living, was in the courtyard, beside us, witnessing a discussion she didn’t understand.

From door to door with a list in their hands

Irina is not the only woman who recognized herself in the images. Two houses away lives Elena, the woman who is shown in the footage shaking hands and closing the deal. “That one was sent to me by Rupa, and he came with a social worker named Dan. I have no idea what they talked between them, they spoke another language. I told Dan to tell him I wouldn’t give away my children, I’d better kill myself. I gave a child for adoption eight years ago in America, but everything was legal, I have all the papers, and I have another one in foster care. I gave them because I had nothing to raise them with. Their father rarely comes home.
I told him I would agree to give them for adoption, and nothing else, I wouldn’t sell them not even for 30,000. He asked me how much money I needed for repairing the house until he came back for the adoption and whether 10,000 dollars were enough. We shook hands in the end, but from my point of view it was to say good-bye and not to close a deal, as they said”, Elena recalls, extremely angry.

The only one who admits she wanted to give her child away is a 19 year old pregnant woman. She told us the British man promised he would come to take the child from the maternity. “I wanted to give him the child then. I’m only 19. But now my husband won’t let me”, says the woman, who tried to hide herself. The film also claims there was a woman in the village who had just sold her twins to a Dutch couple, but the locals contradict it and say the children are still in their mother’s care, in Hoghilag.

The intermediaries
Two names were frequently uttered when the locals talked about the film: Florin and Dan, the two guides of the Englishmen. Florin R., a well to do Rroma, aware of everything happening in the area, remembers how he was contacted by the team of British journalists. “He came to me in August, saying he’s from America. I was not at home; they entered my neighbor’s courtyard and filmed her children, saying they were very beautiful. I met them later, in the village shop, where they were buying sweets for the children. They told me they wanted to talk to people about children for sale. They were accompanied by a guy, Dan, a social worker who translated for them. When I heard what all was about, I refused to talk to them”, Florin says.
I don’t know wherefrom they had my phone number. We met in Medias. He knew exactly where to go and whom to talk to. He told me to bring him to Hoghilag. I translated everything; I heard everything that was spoken. None of the women ever said she was willing to sell her baby. They only talked about adoption, not selling. He promised one of the women a financial aid of 10,000 dollars. The people understood we wanted to help him so they guided us to this poor woman, with many children. The woman said she had a daughter she wanted to give to adoption, with all the legal papers. None of them ever said “I will sell my baby””, Dan relates. He explains the hand shaking as a greeting sign. He admits his “work” was remunerated with 200 euros.

Guantanamo for babies…

…this is how the 33 Romanian NGOs, most of them with British financing, present the situation of the institutionalized children in Romania. Moreover, they wrote a letter published in the Financial Times in June in which the situation of these children is depicted in an extremely harsh tone. The Romanian government is accused of lack of involvement in solving children’s tragedy. ”We support Romania’s accession to the EU, but EU citizens must be aware of the acute crisis in child protection system in Romania, a system that the EU officials erroneously present as a model”, the letter explains. The signatories of the letter claim that there are “many no-cost solutions that could put an end to suffering, solutions that could be implemented today but they are not”. In the measures suggested by the 33 NGOs, the idea of the resumption of international adoptions is strongly enhanced. Romanafectus, an NGO working in Sibiu since 2003 is among the letter’s signatories.

Romanafectus foundation, active in Hoghilag
The Romanafectus foundation, one of the FT letter’s signatories, has been active in Sibiu since 2003. The foundation’s accreditation file at the Directorate for Labour, Social Solidarity and Family of Sibiu county specifies that the foundation specializes in socio-medical and psychological counseling, medical and financial aid to children with health problems, coming from poor families. According to the data in the file, within “I’m Here” socio-medical programme, the foundation is active in Bardu, Rusi, Slimnic, Hoghilag, Cartisoara, Marsa and Talmaciu areas. The Sibiu foundation employs 6 British experts and is coordinated from Sibiu by director Elena Belet. This is how she explains the fact that the foundations is among the signatories of the letter: “I can’t give you an official answer. We are a British association, with members from Britain. As to the letter, there was a federation of 50 organizations; I can’t tell you absolutely nothing related to this issue. Whatever I say would be wrong, therefore contact the federation’s spokesman”, says Elena Belet. When asked why she adhered to the letter, she claims it was not out of ill-will, but to mend wrongs in Romania. Concerning the attitude on the resumption of international adoptions, Elena Belet emphasized she could only express a totally personal point of view. “I think that if the adoption is perfectly legal, not the child traffic it became at a certain point, I have nothing against it. The system must be very well organized so that all the adoptions can be monitored. The foundation that I represent was never involved in adoption activities, and if this will be the case, I wouldn’t work here anymore, because I have my reputation”, Elena Belet adds.

The village legends and the authorities
Any village from Sibiu county in which Rroma communities live has its legends concerning international adoptions. In the whole area of Medias and Agnita, the villages were visited by foreigners for many years, and in every village you may here about an international adoption made immediately after the revolution. Nobody says anything about children for sale. Sibiu authorities, both the Police and the County Directorate for Social Assistance and Child Protection, investigate Hoghilag case. “The investigation started in this case and we will establish the judicial framing of the signaled facts”, the Chief Inspector Sebastian Vestemean states, from the Service for Combating Organized Crime in Sibiu. “We are waiting for the police report and according to it, if it’s the case, we will take all the necessary measures for protecting the children”, says Laura Valsan, executive director at the Directorate for Social Assistance and Child Protection.

Text box The goal of our investigation is not to demonstrate that these “stories” can’t happen in our villages. Nevertheless, according to our information, we can conclude the “Babies for Sale” documentary is a provocation meant to determine the Romanian authorities to accept the resumption of international adoptions.

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