Confound their politics,

Frustrate their knavish tricks. 

Henry Carey, 1693–1743

The information sheet released by the Romanian embassy detailed those orphanages around the country that the authorities were prepared to reveal to the outside world. Ghastly though those institutions were, it is entirely likely that there were more, even more dreadful, which were either too horrible to identify or had simply dropped off the state’s radar.

Each of those set out on the sheets released by the embassy had the number of children marked out against each orphanage, in columns. The average appeared to hover around 500–600 children, the same number to be found in Orphanage Number One; and the overall total exceeded six figures, even ignoring those whose identities had been lost.

The vast majority of the children were not orphans at all. Some had been abandoned while others had been passed into state care by parents who were living in absolute poverty and could not provide for them. 

The plight of the children had come to international attention when, in 1990, an American news network released the first pictures of an orphanage, accompanying them with a report of what its reporter had discovered. 

The Romanian government asserted that urgent attempts would be made to close the orphanages but that, given the scale of the problem, removing the children into foster care or returning them to their families would take a significant amount of time and resources. However, assurances were given to European governments that its ambition to join the Union would be underpinned by a commitment to complete the transition, if not in advance of its accession to the Community, certainly within ten years.

Figures released by the government have revealed the margin by which the target has been missed. Whereas, in 2000, ten years after the revolution, over 57,000 children remained in the orphanages, nearly ten years later, in 2009, UNESCO reported that there were more than 21,000 such children. It is difficult to put an exact figure on the efforts being made to shut down the institutions, since some investigative reports have established that 450 orphanages, accommodating some 160,000 inmates, were shut down by 2007. The contradiction is plain. 

Following the introduction of new legislation in Romania in February 1991 concerning adoption, the Romanian government set up the Committee for Adoptions to introduce measures to regularise procedures for the adoption of children, including identifying children who were available for adoption. Adoption of all children by adoptive parents living abroad ceased from 17 July 1991. The Romanian Committee for Adoptions made it known in November 1991 that further adoption of children by foreign couples would only be permitted where a formal agreement was signed between the Committee and respective countries. 

Having continued to refuse to recognise Romanian adoptions, the UK Department of Health finally signed the agreement with the Romanian Committee for Adoptions on 19 March 1992. It was suggested that the Romanian authorities presented their conditions and were prepared to offer little room for manoeuvre. However, it was reported that United Kingdom officials were able to obtain some ‘concessions’ from the Committee, for example, in the cases of siblings, older children (later defined as children over 10 years of age) or those with special needs, but, in essence, the UK agreement was very similar to those already signed by a number of other countries.

By the spring of 1991, I had felt that Dominic was sufficiently settled to allow me to visit Romania and find him a sibling, but it appeared that the window of opportunity was closing and would be firmly shut by the middle of that year. Finally, on 11 June 1992, following lengthy correspondence, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State wrote to me, enclosing a copy of the agreement and accompanying guidance. His letter ended:

“You will be disappointed to learn that you do not meet the criteria listed on both age grounds and the number of children in the family.”


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