Disabled Children Confined and Abused in Romania

ByABC News via logo
May 9, 2006, 1:55 PM

May 10, 2006 — -- After the fall of communism in the 1990s, the world saw horrific images of abused children living in deplorable conditions in state-run Romanian orphanages.

Those images and stories led to an international uproar and an outpouring of humanitarian aid to the country.

After the initial furor died down, most people assumed the situation had gotten better.

ABC News, however, had an exclusive look at a report, which was released today by Mental Disability Rights International, that details the horrible abuse of handicapped children in Romanian institutions.

Watch "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET for more on this story.

Over an 18-month period, the organization found 46 disabled children and teenagers ages 7 to 17 inside a hidden ward at a psychiatric hospital for adults. Many of them had cerebral palsy and had been abandoned by parents, some of whom had been told their children were "biological garbage."

When Eric Rosenthal, the organization's executive director, visited an institution in the midsize city of Braila, he captured the misery on camera -- a 17-year-old girl who looked like she was 5 years old and weighed only 22 pounds; children wrapped in full-body restraints with sheets tied to beds and cribs; and children so malnourished that their skin peeled off their bodies.

"What I saw in Braila was the worst I have seen anywhere in the world. It was just an absolute horror," Rosenthal said. "These children, 46 children, were near death."

Forty years ago, declining birth rates prompted the government to outlaw abortion and contraception. Birth rates soon doubled, and many Romanian families -- especially the nearly quarter who live in poverty -- could not care for their children.

Great improvements have been made. The number of children living in orphanages and institutions has dropped by more than 60 percent.