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Sewers home to Romania's forgotten orphans


July 23, 1997
Web posted at: 4:07 a.m. EDT (0807 GMT)

From Correspondent Bill Delaney

BUCHAREST, Romania (CNN) -- Just outside the bustling railway North Station, a sewer entrance serves as the home to a shifting population of 50 or 60 lost souls.

These aging orphans are the result of the brutal regime of Romanian Dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu. Though executed Christmas Day, 1989, Ceaucescu's cruel legacy lingers in the face of hardened children.

Mariana says she's called the sewer under the station home since she was 13. Now in her early 20s, Mariana lives with hundreds of young men and women who, for one reason or another, were warehoused in state institutions under the socialist dictator and then loosed to the streets when communism fell.


Now, years later, most of these young street urchins sniff glue to pass the time. Outside of the occasional visit from the police and a brave handful of social workers, they're forgotten.

In Romania, as throughout much of Eastern Europe, millions are still struggling for a foothold in the everyman-for-himself-market. The most marginalized come last, and with so little money to go around for anyone in need of assistance, there's precious little left for the forgotten orphans.

New generation of orphans

But the plight of the street children is reaching a new level.


Inside North Station, not under it, other orphans -- hundreds of children as young as 8 -- have become the new castoffs of the revolution. Social workers say their plight is not due to Ceaucescu's socialism but because of families breaking apart under the financial strains of the new Eastern Europe.

Corrina Atanasiu, who works with Save the Children, a group dedicated to making positive differences in the lives of disadvantaged children, is herself feeling the economic pressures. Working sometimes late into the night at North Station, she earns just $50 a month.

"This kind of problem is the source for other kinds of problems," Atanasiu says. "They create disabilities in the families, and this is I think the first step to losing the children in the street."

So in Romania, which is in so many ways a new country just getting on its own feet, many of the young are already old beyond their years.


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