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November 28, 2004


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This is the same man who killed hundreds if not thousands of stray dogs a while ago... you wouldn't treat a dog like this, you'd just kill it :/

Raoul Djukanovic

wow, sky news plumbs new depths in search of cheap and tasteless content.

incidentally, what sort of a sustainable solution is international adoption, claudia? also, doesn't this post refute the arguments you advanced earlier?

how can unfettered baby-trafficking, which benefits only a few and dislocates many of them, be an improvement on the black market except in terms of streamlining the trade? there are reasons for arguing this, i can see, but can i assume then that you also support the legalisation of cross-border sales of narcotics and prostitutes?

forgive the blunt questioning, but i'm confused by the apparent contradiction in your posts.

as for basescu and the dogs, what happened to vier pfoten and their sterilisation schemes? unless someone is prepared to take all the dogs off the streets and prevent them from reproducing, it's difficult to see how to proceed except with some kind of cull, repellant as it may seem.



It appears that the dogs were not killed, nor sterilized. They're still there, on the streets. :-(

Doug Muir

The dogs: I'm with Basescu on this. The stray dog packs are dangerous; we know several people who've been bitten. And the dogs themselves lead pretty miserable lives. Sterilization doesn't seem to be practical.

The babies: Raoul, I don't speak for Claudia -- but there's a difference between saying "the law as it exists is stupid, and isn't being enforced" and "there shouldn't be a law". If Claude is advocating 'unfettered baby-trafficking', it has escaped me so far.

Doug M.


Raoul --

incidentally, what sort of a sustainable solution is international adoption, claudia? also, doesn't this post refute the arguments you advanced earlier?

International adoption is not a bad thing. Don't kid yourself -- the thousands of orphans and abandonned babies in Romanian orphanages are not going to be adopted into Romanian families. Some few of them, perhaps. All of them? No. Many will end up on the streets, and that is not a bright future for either the kids nor Romania.

how can unfettered baby-trafficking, which benefits only a few and dislocates many of them, be an improvement on the black market except in terms of streamlining the trade?

Just for the record: baby-trafficking and international adoption are not the same thing.

Raoul Djukanovic

hi claudia,

according to the eu rapporteur, whose intervention precipitated the moratorium on international adoptions, it was impossible to prevent the system being abused, which made it the same the thing in practice.

surely what counts is developing some kind of a sustainable solution. i got the impression that the demands of families wanting to adopt were driving u.s. policy on this - specifically those who were in the middle of the process when the moratorium came into force.

in effect, the demand for international adoption was fuelling abandonment, according to the EU - hence the "casa de copii nu-i acasa" campaign.

i'm under no illusions as to the willingness or capacity for widespread adoptions within romania, but i also don't see how one can object to the practices exposed by sky yet support them if facilitated by corrupt officials. the bottom line is the same - babies for sale. even if a majority of those who leave the country find a supportive home environment, i'd be surprised if you found too many romanians who thought this was the way to manage social policy in the long term.



Verheugen is being an idiot about this particular issue. I really think he has the best intentions but he has no idea about the reality of it.

i got the impression that the demands of families wanting to adopt were driving u.s. policy on this - specifically those who were in the middle of the process when the moratorium came into force.

I don't think you can accuse me of schmoozing up to US politics, so please believe me when I say this: The US attitude towards the new law is in large parts the attitude of the former Ambassador to Romania, Mr. Guest. His attitude came from horror and disgust over the current conditions most abandonned children live in. He fought valiently against the law and he was devastated when the new law passed. He wanted to save the children and he couldn't.

See, the problem is not that the law doesn't stop trafficking. As long as corruption and nepotism exist to the degree as they currently do, you can basically buy everything in Romania for a price, even babies.

However, the law was advertised as being in the best interest of the children and I seriously doubt it. Instead of attacking the problem at the roots (and no, I don't have a quick solution either, it will take decades, a new attitude towards children, more money, more education, more patience) -- instead of attacking the problem at the roots, it tries to deal with the consequences. In the short run, that is a necessary step, yes. But here the law shows a lack of understanding of the situation.

The consequence of the law is that all those abandonned children -- which are not sold off but really left behind in maternity wards or on the street -- are now spending the first years of their lives in orphanages, instead of families. (The next years they overwhelmingly spend on the streets.)

So what if those families were in the US? I can see no fault in that. There is an excess supply of children here in Romania, to put it into economic terms. Nobody here wants them. For the little 10-month-old boy who lives in an orphanage TODAY, there is no better solution than having him be adopted into a family. If he's showered with love and attention, if he gets to go to school and make the best out of his talents, I don't care if his future parents live in Uzbekistan or Virginia. I just want him to be safe and looked after properly. I want him to have a chance.

Under the current law, he continues to live in the orphanage because it needs to be proven that no Romanian family would want him. He's being cycled through the system which works vey slowly, he gets older, he turns four, five, six. By that time, he may live on the street, now inaccessible to prospective adoptive parents. He's begging, stealing, sniffing glue. His brain is slowly eaten by chemicals and malnutrition. He'll die early, of hypothermia in the winter, of hunger, too much glue, of some kind of treatable illness.

He lost out because the law stinks.

Raoul, I understand your concerns, I really do. But I see the street kids every day. I know families in the US and in Germany who would give everything to take one of those kids in. But there is a chasm between them in the form of a stupid law.

Raoul Djukanovic

hi claudia, thanks for sharing your thoughts. i can empathise with how you feel having lived in bucharest myself. although i appreciate that michael guest's concern was genuine, i encountered several international adoption lobbyists who terrified me. the welfare of romanian children was not their priority at all.

i was influenced in my thinking on this by emma nicholson rather than verheugen. although she has her own agendas, i felt that she was also motivated by concern for children's well-being, which led her to conclude that somehow an alternative had to be devised to a system that was being so systematically abused, especially given the amounts of money changing hands.

clearly there is no magic answer and a sustainable solution will take years or even generations to develop. but given that the number of institutionalised children has remained stubbornly consistent over the past decade *despite* adoptions (according to the last figures i saw) and that the majority remain in dire straits, i really wonder whether it isn't naive of us to think that by saving a few we do anything to help the rest.

the abandonment problem is the root - which the EU and Romanian officials both appeared to recognise. it sounds like they've got nowhere trying to develop solutions though.

it's a mess and i didn't mean to imply that a moratorium on adoptions was going to solve it. i just don't see how an international trade in babies helps much either, even if the majority find loving homes. shouldn't we be encouraging people to adopt from their own countries? this was something that always perplexed me too - a lot of the adoption websites make a big deal out of offering white babies from eastern europe rather than the children of black crack addicts in america.

i just can't help thining that the international adoption business doesn't help social policy in either country.



Okay, speaking here as a parent by means of international adoption - a layperson, but tolerably acquainted with the US community of such persons and the law of adoption in at least four nations...

Adoption law in screwed up everywhere. Necessarily so -- it is attempting to reconcile conflicting goals. Taking the United States first, (criticizing my own) the goal of "keeping natural families intact" is opposed to the goal of "protecting children" whenever a natural parent is abusive, neglectful, or incompetent. The goal of "expeditious decisions" is in conflict with the goal of "due process" The goal of maintaining ethnic identity groups is opposed by goals of placing all kids -- "all" including "many" kids from ethnic groups from which "few" would-be parents step up. The goal of solving problems locally is opposed by attempts to standardize solutions across jurisdictions. And the goal of making creative and appropriate decisions for particular special cases is opposed by the fear of setting a general precedent that will be abused later, or prove "unsustainable."

Of these, the notion that solutions should be "sustainable" -- as Mr Djukanovic requires -- seems to me to be the oddest. Shouldn't we begin with the hope that the solution will actually solve the problem -- make it go away? (Well, as citizens I would expect that -- though I understand that it is an exceptional bureaucrat who is thrilled to find the problem sustaining his job to be eroding beneath him. ) Even so, it is not hard to point to such "sustainable" programs. The South Koreans have not solved their social problem of stigmatizing bastard baby boys. (Bastard girls are apparently okay.) So the "supply" is sustained. But South Korea and the private/charitable agency Holt have managed a placement system that has worked for five decades. That's a better record than many boast and worth some study and emulation.

In fact the Chinese program is modeled carefully upon the South Korean. (And was spurred into a gallop after "The Dying Rooms", a TV documentary about a particularly poorly run Chinese orphanate, was widely aired.) Like the Korean programs they are closely aligned with charitable (NGO style) agencies.

Such agencies are as apt to go bad as any human institution. The US embargoed Cambodian adoptions over accusations of baby-bartering by the sole international agency working there. (And, again, the expose' was driven by TV cameramen...) It therefore appears as though -- odd as it may seem -- the best way to avoid an adoption-auction environment is to institutionalize a competitive marketplace of agencies. And THEY require some sorts of incentives to stay in the game -- if not actual monetary profits, some sort of score keeping.
"Placements finalized" is a good metric. One where no court challenges in either the donor or recipients' jurisdictions winds up re-institutionalizing a kid.

Well, this is running way long. I just mean to point out that no one facing this problem needs re-invent the wheel. There are no only programs that roll along, however creakily, there are roap maps of experience to follow.

Raoul Djukanovic

hi pouncer,

i think you misunderstood what i meant by sustainability. the charge against the romanian system was that it was all too sustainably providing children for sale abroad. this to me does not seem like a viable way of dealing with social problems in the long run.

i'm not sure where your reference to bureaucrats fits in though. of course the objective should be to make the problem go away. some form of regulation is clearly required, but it seems that in the romanian case, and probably most others, this is extraordinarily difficult to enforce given the financial distortions.

i'm no expert on adoption law, though, so perhaps i'd better duck out here.


Bernard Guerrero


"shouldn't we be encouraging people to adopt from their own countries?"


Let's be honest. The "encouraging the adoption of black babies in the U.S." idea is a non-starter. People generally want their kids to look like them, if at all possible, and people generally want their kids to live under as few handicaps as possible. The idea that there might be _widespread_ cross-racial adoption, particularly of kids that have very possibly been subject to fetal malnutrition and/or exposure to damaging and addictive drugs simply won't fly.

So given that the above means that there will always (or at least for a long time to come, prior to the nation going Olive) be additional demand for Caucasian babies from non-addicted, healthy mothers, why would the particular nations of origin or adoption matter?

Raoul Djukanovic

hi bernard, i can't fault your reasoning or your observations; i just think this says disturbing things about people's priorities when it comes to framing legislation. it seems that the desires of childless parents count for more than the needs of the neglected children, although how this might be redressed is beyond me.

Raoul Djukanovic

to clarify, the reference to legislation was in the context of the broader international adoption discussion as it has developed in this thread rather than to the romanian example specifically. the legislation there is being criticised because it does not facilitate what prospective adopters would like. again, this lobbying pressure was what made me wary about international adoptions, but as i note above i'm no expert. so this time i really will duck out, gracefully or otherwise.

a final thought: it strikes me as a more complex issue than the notion that wealthy westerners can save the day. emma nicholson's argument was that this pressure only encouraged abandonment. as sky discovered, babies can be bought regardless, which only complicates the problem further.


Bernard, a point of observation: the stigma against cross-racial adoptions in the US is much less for white families adopting Asian children than it is for white families adopting black children. I have my own (brooding) theories about this, but it kind of knocks out the idea that parents necessarily want their adoptive children to look like them.

Raoul, as the mysteriously absent third co-blogger here, I have to say I don't find Nicholson's reasoning very convincing. Frankly, in my opinion it smacks more of a desire for political purity -- that awful money, you know -- than a regard for the well-being of children. But it's very hard to remain dispassionate about these issues, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.


Doug Muir

I'm inclined to agree with Carlos' analysis of Mme. Nicholson's motives. But then, I have taken a bit of a dislike to her.

"[The] legislation... is being criticised because it does not facilitate what prospective adopters would like."

True; but this doesn't mean that it isn't also, objectively, bad legislation.

It is. The internal market for adoption in Romania is tiny. Adoption rates are low, dropping to /very/ low if you exclude adoptions by family members. (There's a strong tradition of adoption within an extended family, but no tradition of adoption outside of it.) The Orthodox Church, I should add, has been worse than useless on this issue, but that's a story for another post.

Point being, a law that restricts adoption to Romanians only is a damned stupid law that will ruin a lot of kids' lives. And that's true whether the Bush administration opposes it or not.

Re-opening the market in international adoptions would immediately lead to a different set of complications, including a new wave of trafficking. But it's pretty clear that
there'd be a net decrease in human misery.

Also, it's just goddamn lazy to think that international adoption couldn't be done better than it was in the past. I don't say perfectly, I just say better. Many of the grosser abuses could be eliminated with a very modest level of funding and effort.

As Bernard pointed out, Romania is not unique. (It's not even uniquely corrupt.) Other countries have grappled with these same problems, and have found solutions that work. No reason it couldn't be done here... but like so many things, it's a question of political will.

Doug M.

Raoul Djukanovic

hi doug, fair point on nicholson - as carlos notes, the quest for purity is often unrealistic, although i'd recommend looking deeper than personal antipathy.
contrary to the impression you probably got from my post at harry's place, i should perhaps stress that i try to analyse the issues in greater depth than my knee-jerk antipathy to all things bushie might imply. ;-)
having said that though, there is a terrible lack of political will in the states to deal with many og the problems that we can all identify there - and in the wider western world, where america by virtue of its power calls the shots regardless of popular opinion.
worth bearing in mind, i think, even if it has no bearing on this question. political will is a term that gets bandied about all too readily in development circles, in my humble opinion.

Doug Muir

political will is a term that gets bandied about all too readily in development circles, in my humble opinion.

That's true.

On the other hand, there's a reason that cliches become cliches.

See my recent comment on the "Mestrovic in Bucharest" thread. It should be pretty easy to clean up that little park. But nobody does.

For a trivial but suggestive example, this old post comes to mind. Does this scale up? I kind of think it does.

Doug M.

Raoul Djukanovic

again, a fair point, doug, although it's tempting to hop back on my hobby horse and note what might have been done for alternative energy development with 140 billion bucks and counting...

seriously though, you're right that there isn't a lot of inclination to contribute to communal space in south-eastern europe as a whole. although romania seemed to me particularly prone to the "outside my front door it doesn't matter" mentality, it wasn't a patch on kosovo.

why do you think that might be? i'd humbly submit that it's a hell of a lot more complicated than it looks, much as a pointy-headed apparatchik type might say the same to my iraq observation...

still, everything has to start somewhere and scaling up is the way to go in many respects if you ask me. maybe you could set the ball rolling with a statue renovation and hype it up in the media? just a thought.


Bernard Guerrero

"I have my own (brooding) theories about this, but it kind of knocks out the idea that parents necessarily want their adoptive children to look like them."

Funny you mention this. I was thinking about the same phenomenon when I posted the first time, but I thought I'd avoid it so as to keep down the intellectual clutter, so to speak. I don't know that it really blows up my broader point, though.

Parents want their kids to be like them. More precisely, deep down I think they want their kids to be _better versions_ of themselves. I can see how this would translate into problems for a black baby from the inner-city U.S. in a number of ways:

a) The obvious point mentioned previously, that is, the baby doesn't look like the parent. I think it's a major factor, but as you noted it does not appear to operate equally across all races.

b) Racism: An underlying suspicion amongst many that "The Bell Curve" is correct. If you think the baby handicapped by racial characteristics right off the bat, you will probably hesitate to adopt one.

c) Health/Conditions of Pregnancy: The suspicion that an inner-city adoptee's mother has probably not been as healthy or as careful as a non-inner city adoptee's mother during the pregnancy, once again handicapping the baby for life right from the start.

I can think of a few others, but I imagine you get the drift. Brooding enough for you?


hi claudia,
I'm an expat working bucharest via Athens and London.
Unfortunately the british press has hit the ground and has been digging for quite a while now. I recall a story a few years ago in Naples where a bbc reporter eager to prove his point that Naples is little more than a crime ridden cesspit, went into a pharmacy and purchased syringes which he scattered in a sidestreet and proceeded to film.
The locals got wind of it and the carabinieri had to be called in to save him from getting lynched.
I would take anything that the british press has to say about the balkans with a truckload of salt.


I would take anything that the british press has to say about the balkans with a truckload of salt.

Oh, yeah. I won't say that about the British press in general, because I don't know them well enough. I know Sky News though, and I'm not inclined to cut them much slack.

However, this particular story is probably true -- or at least, it could be true. It's an open secret and if Sky News just made it up, then that doesn't make much of a difference. The point, namely that you can buy babies, and that the adoption process/law here in Romania stinks, still stands.

So, what are you doing when you are in Bucharest, she asked nosily...


Bernard, I think it's a little more irrational than that. Many Americans still make strange and uncomfortable assumptions about interracial, and especially white-black, family relationships. I once knew a black woman whose child (with her white husband) was a fair redhead. It made her furious when people assumed she was his nanny.

And of course I have a bundle of stories along those lines myself. But that takes us a long ways from southeastern Europe.



"So, what are you doing when you are in Bucharest, she asked nosily..."

I'm a civil engineer working for a construction company. Public works mostly, highways, bridges etc.

I guess sky was probably right, its just that they are as predictable as a drinking game sometimes. You know like

- when sky news mentions 'corrupt european official' ...take a shot of vodka

- when 'loss of british sovereignty' is mentioned...take a shot of palinka

- 'Delors ruined my life'... knock back the bottle




Looks like Slate has picked up this issue in today's article: http://slate.msn.com/id/2109971/entry/0/

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