Author: MARGIE BOULE – of the Oregonian Staff
They were babies, mostly, or toddlers, with big, dark eyes, pale skin and dark, unkempt hair. They lived far away, in large, crowded buildings Americans haven’t heard much about for 30 years or so: orphanages.
Only these places made Little Orphan Annie’s orphanage look like the Plaza Hotel. The children were crowded into tiny pens or were lying in their own excrement. The odor of their filth and disease sometimes seemed to rise from the vivid pictures on our TV screens.
The abandoned children in Romania grabbed at our heartstrings, and Americans responded with a symphony of care.
Here in Oregon, we were particularly touched.
In January, KATU-TV (2) contributed air time and personnel for a prime-time telethon to raise money so the Northwest Medical Teams could send a planeload of supplies and a group of health-care professionals to Romania. Thousands of Northwesterners called in pledges and wrote the follow-up checks.
A month or so later, the NMT sent that team to tend to the medical needs of the children in the orphanages. It’s been estimated that as many as 50 percent of the children are infected with AIDS. An equally great number have been exposed to hepatitis B, a disease that can cause a lifetime of medical complications. And then there are the handicapped children who’ve been abandoned by their families. They need medical attention, too.
In Washington, D.C., last year, Rep. Les AuCoin lobbied hard for aid for the Romanian children in need, and Congress responded by sending $4 million overseas, earmarked for the Romanian orphans.
But Americans did more than send money and medical aid. Across the nation — but especially here in Oregon — couples decided that what those babies needed most of all was families of their own. Thousands of people who could afford the plane tickets packed their suitcases with cash (to bribe doctors and orphanage officials and judges and translators and government bureaucrats), nail polish, candy bars and disposable razors (to pass out to nurses and women who may, or may not, be birth mothers) and flew to Romania to buy a baby.
Now, it’s clear that many, many people who went in search of an adoptive child did so with the best interest of the child in mind. After all, they’d seen the vivid pictures in the papers: these children were in desperate need. Lots of people felt a religious conviction to help the children.
But there were others who just wanted babies, period. Healthy babies. White babies. The kind people advertise for in the classified ad sections of newspapers.
In fairly short order, most of the white, healthy, unhandicapped babies that were truly orphans in Romania had been adopted. And because Romania’s restrictive anti-abortion and anti-birth-control laws were repealed last year, there just aren’t as many unwanted babies being born in Romania anymore. But the American couples just kept coming to Romania . . . and coming home with babies.
Only trouble is, according to a story in The New York Times Magazine in March, half of the babies being brought home are not from the orphanages. They were obtained through black market baby brokers, sometimes from women who are called “baby machines.” In the last year, baby selling has become one of the most lucrative cottage industries in Romania.
And when The New York Times sent an investigative reporter to Romania to look into the dirty business, guess whom that reporter found, chasing babies in gypsy villages and maternity wards?
She found Oregonians.
People in Les AuCoin’s office were upset to read The New York Times expose.
“Every single example they give in the article is someone from Oregon,” says Eileen Goldsmith, an AuCoin aide.
Legislative assistant Jennifer Ball agrees. “Les is very disturbed that this sort of chaos is happening over there. There is no real respect for the interests of the children.”
Last week AuCoin went before a House subcommittee to ask for more funds for Romanian orphans. They’re still in those orphanages — hungry, handicapped, neglected. An American official in Romania told The Times: “To my knowledge we’ve not issued an immigrant visa to a single severely handicapped child.”
Only this time, AuCoin asked Congress to earmark a good part of the money to set up a child welfare system, to moniter adoption of Romanian children.
Susan Cox, who is with the Eugene-based Holt International Children’s Services, also testified. Holt is working with the Romanian government to set up a system to process adoptions.
If Congress approves the funds and Romania can clean up the black market baby-buying, then maybe there will be no more children who end up in America, while their birth parents in Romania end up with $700 and a turbo engine car.
Copyright (c) 1991 Oregonian Publishing Co.
Record Number: 9104300285