Romania's street children FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 6 May 1998 19:15:50 -0700 (PDT)



     By Albert Clack

BUCHAREST - Romania's government has at last begun to admit that the
plight of homeless children is one of the biggest social problems the
country faces.

It is the best part of a decade since the world became aware of the
living hell of Romania's orphanages in the wake of the revolution that
toppled the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. But now there is a new
horror; thousands of destitute children are living in the streets,
parks and even sewers and many are falling prey to foreign paedophiles
and sex racketeers. The government has set up a department of child
protection, but it faces an overwhelming task.

The main railway station in Bucharest, the Gara de Nord, is a focal
point for Romania's street children. Two of them told me how they had
been living around the station for six months, begging for food money.
Both had left home to escape beatings by their fathers. About a third
of runaways come from violent homes, while most of the remainder fled
mistreatment by staff in state institutions.

To many of these children, home is a hole in the pavement, leading to
the relative safety of sewers and heating ducts. One boy, a former
paedophile victim, told me how a Frenchman had enticed him and two
younger boys for a car ride to a forest outside the capital where he
proceeded to abuse them. "He said it would be very good for us if we
had oral sex and sexual relations with him," the boy, Ciprian, said.
"He said he would give us money or perhaps even take us back to France
with him. If I met a paedophile from a foreign country now, I would
say to him: 'you are coming here and you are destroying the health of
our children, and you only give them enough money to eat'."

Life in the Gara de Nord is lonely, brutal and miserable. Many of the
children find temporary relief in drugs - not hard drugs, which are
too expensive, but cheap solvents that can be bought from any hardware
store. They are trying to escape an environment of constant
aggression. For, among ordinary Romanians, there appears to be little
sympathy for their plight. Several people I spoke to dismissed the
whole problem as a conspiracy by the foreign media, while social
workers from international charities report being harassed by angry
members of the public.

According to a study by Save the Children, 15% of the street children
earn money from prostitution. They sell themselves for the equivalent
of a few dollars or a soft bed for the night, or even just some
cigarettes or a scrap of bread. Some are lured to the west with
promise of jobs, only to be forced into prostitution in Berlin,
Amsterdam or Hamburg. Charity workers have to decide which of the many
homeless children they come across should receive what few places
there are in charity homes.

"There are many, many dangers," says Corina Atanasiu of Save the
Children. "The biggest danger for the little boys is the paedophiles
and for the girls it's prostitution. There's a prostitution network.
They are forced to engage in prostitution, either by outsiders or by
other boys. And the little boys are enticed into prostitution by

Speaking to these children, it is obvious that most of them are decent
kids who just wanted to be treated as human beings. What they actually
get are police raids, in which hundreds of them are rounded up at a
time. A few days later, they are back on the streets and more
alienated than ever. They are also prey to disease. Nobody knows just
how many are HIV-positive because there is no money for tests.

One boy, Antonio, began life on the streets having to survive with a
horrendous head wound. "I'm 14 and I've been living on the streets for
more than six years. My parents used to beat me and I ran away from
home after they hit me with an axe."

He was among the lucky ones, rescued by Save the Children. After a
year, most are fostered , often with relatives, and can at last begin
to put the nightmare of the Gara de Nord behind them. For the rest,
there are some encouraging signs. The police are stepping up arrests
of foreign paedophiles. Anyone coming to Romania with child abuse in
mind should beware; seven years is a long time in a Romanian prison.


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