Disabled Children Confined and Abused in Romania


"The eeriest thing about it was the near total silence," Rosenthal said. "We heard one baby crying, and we asked about that baby and that baby had been placed the night before. But the other children, we asked why weren't they crying? And the staff said, 'We try our best, but we can't come to them when they cry.' So after awhile they stop crying. They learn that there's no one there to take care of them."

Rosenthal doesn't blame the hospital staff, he blames the government.

"One nurse said, 'My heart has turned to stone,'" he said. "They feel so overwhelmed. There's nothing they can do. They're put in impossible situations. So I don't blame the staff. I blame the authorities for denying what's going on, for not taking responsibility."

Thousands of children now living in institutions may never graduate to freedom. When they turn 18, many get transferred to adult institutions. The conditions there, unlike those for children, have not been reformed. Patients are chained to beds. The living conditions are squalid and crowded. The rooms are ice cold, and reek of urine and feces.

"Their terror that they live with is that they'll be in one of those adult facilities for the rest of their life," Rosenthal said.

According to UNICEF estimates, 68,805 disabled children are registered in Romania, but that figure does not include psychiatric patients. Moreover, many babies never receive birth certificates, so they are not counted.

Blank Check Won't Help

Even after being shown some of the horrible images uncovered by ABC News, Ioana Nedelcu, subsecretary of the National Authority for the Protection of Children's Rights, said "those children were protected within a medical service system. … Even though most of them were abandoned by their parents."

For the legions of other children lost in the system, the only hope of escape lies in a foster care system that is slowly groaning its way toward transformation. Romania continues to spend more than 70 percent of the money for child protection on infrastructure, 18 percent on foster care, and 1 percent on training staff.

Rosenthal says that sympathetic Westerners who want to help the situation shouldn't "write a blank check."

"The European Union has a generous amount of money to provide technical assistance," he said. "Don't give them a blank check. Insist that that funding is linked to helping those kids. And not just nice, new, clean facilities, that won't do, families."

For the full report on Braila, visit the Web site of Mental Disability Rights International, which made this report possible.

This story was originally reported by Diane Sawyer.

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