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The standard of living for Romanian orphans is still grave despite vast improvements since their conditions were leaked to the West after the fall of the Communist government in 1989. A news report on the American newsmagazine 20/20, which first aired on October 5, 1990, was the first to show the conditions in full detail on television.
Under Nicolae Ceauşescu, both abortion and contraception were forbidden, leading to a rise in birth rates. This resulted in many children being abandoned and these were joined in the orphanages by disabled and mentally ill people. Together these vulnerable groups were subjected to institutionalised neglect and abuse, including physical and sexual abuse and use of drugs to control behaviour.
Orphanages lacked both medicines and washing facilities, and children were subject to sexual and physical abuse.
The conditions in orphanages had declined after 1982, as a result of Ceauşescu's decision to seize much of the country's economic output in order to repay its foreign debt.
As the realities of life in Romanian orphanages emerged after December 1989, the reaction outside Romania was of shock at the plight of the orphans, and numerous charities were established. Numerous fund-raising activities have been conducted by various parties, such as the 1990 album Nobody's Child: Romanian Angel Appeal, which was compiled by George and Olivia Harrison for AIDS-infected orphans.
In September 2005, Emma Nicholson, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Romania, stated "Romania has profoundly reformed [from top to bottom] its child protection system and has evolved from one of the worst systems in Europe to one of the best. Countries like Ukraine could learn a lot today from the Romanian example."
Deinstitutionalising them had been made a condition of Romanian entry into the European Union, but an investigation by BBC journalist Chris Rogers in 2009 revealed that conditions in some institutions are still very poor and large numbers of institutionalised and traumatised people are still held in inadequate conditions, with many apparently having entered the system post-Ceauşescu. In early 2011 two British charities Hope and Homes for Children and ARK launched a plan to complete the reform of the Romanian Child Protection Systems and close all large children's homes in Romania by 2020.
Number of children in the care of the state between 1990-2010:
|#||year||Total children in care of the state.||Number living in Orphanages|