November 23, 2007
Romania's Lost Children




Watch the program: Part 1 | Part 2

The little baby boy lay awake in his cot. He was bound in swaddling, as is the tradition in these parts, and I was aching to pick him up. The doctor told me his name: Emanuel Bizgan. He was five months old, the son of a homeless woman, and had been abandoned at the hospital.

Emanuel is one of a new generation of orphans in Romania. These days babies abandoned at hospitals are likely to stay there until their second birthday. New laws banning the institutionalization of children under two have backfired for them. Only when they turn two will they be legally allowed to go to a children's home. Not that that would be much better.

The doctor in charge, Dr. Monica Nicoara, has become a babysitter for dozens of newborns and toddlers. There's nothing medically wrong with the children – they've simply had the misfortune of being given up by their parents.

"They have no affiliation, no stability; 'that’s my mummy, I go to my mummy, I am safe with my mummy. I have many mummies – anyone is okay, but which is mine?,'" she tells me. "It is not a personal relationship here."

We filmed Dr. Nicoara and her charges at the Baia Mare hospital in northern Romania. Some of the older babies who could sit up were rocking – child welfare experts say that's a sign that they’re suffering from a lack of stimulation. I noticed something else odd about the ward – the babies weren’t crying. There were a dozen little ones there and they were all quiet. They'd given up on crying. That above all was hard to learn – the best way babies can communicate their needs and these ones had given up. They had learned that crying didn't get them what they wanted. How could it – when their were 23 of them to care for and just 3 nurses on the ward?

The babies didn't cry but by the end of this shoot I think our entire crew was holding back tears. We knew that this was going to be an emotional story to tell. By the time we finished filming, we'd all had a cuddle of Emanuel and some of his friends in the ward. We really wanted to take them home (wryly joking that they'd fit in our backpacks). But even if we were serious, it would have been impossible: International adoption has been banned in Romania.

The story became personal for me later that same day. I received an e-mail from a dear friend in Australia who was desperately trying to get pregnant and having all sorts of problems. She really wanted a child and it was painful to think that here I was meeting so many unwanted children. It brought home the tragedy of this story and the importance of telling it. Romania has made great strides in its child welfare system since the horrors of the Communist regime – but there are still too many babies here who may never know a mother's love.

-- From Emma Griffiths, Moscow Correspondent, ABC Australia
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World’s Untold Stories showcases courageous correspondents telling intimate stories of society's most vulnerable people. Often gritty, always powerful tales that open our eyes to a world that is at times disturbing and captivating. Storytelling that is raw and unyielding in its impact. World’s Untold Stories will bring the viewer tales from all corners of the world, and shine light on activities almost never exposed.

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