FAQS: ROMANIA

As we have gotten settled into Romania and started sharing our stories with you, common questions have emerged about the children, the orphanages, and the cause of the orphan crisis here. We want to address these questions and create a resource for you so you can better understand the situation that 60,000 children find themselves in across Romania. Because of Romania's history, each part of the country is very different. As we've connected with people in Western Romania and the capital city, Bucharest, we are finding that orphan care looks different in each place. Please keep in mind that this is true to our county and not necessarily Romania as a whole.

WHAT ARE THE ORPHANAGES LIKE?

In our city, all of the children live in government orphanages. There are currently two large, dorm-style orphanages here. One is for children with disabilities and one has about 60 children of both genders and ages. There are also three smaller homes that house about 12-15 younger children of both genders with one government worker. These smaller environments feel more like a home and less like an institution. The government agency also has apartments in several buildings throughout the city. These house about 4-6 children in each unit along with a government worker and are primarily occupied by teenagers. There are girls apartments and boys apartments. The girls in our first Flourish Group live in 2 different apartments in the same building around the corner from us!

CAN WE ADOPT THE CHILDREN?

No. International adoptions are currently closed for Romania. Even as Americans living here, we're not allowed to adopt. 

CAN WE SEND CLOTHING, GIFTS, SUPPLIES, ETC?

The children have their physical needs met. They have food, clothing, school supplies, cell phones, etc. If a specific need arises, we will let you know. However, we firmly believe in supporting the local businesses and economy when we can so we will likely ask for financial donations towards a need and not material donations. We have access to everything you can find in the USA. It's more cost efficient for us to purchase things here and it also ensures that we're getting the children things that are familiar and culturally appropriate. 

WHY ARE THEY IN ORPHANAGES? WHAT HAPPENED TO THEIR FAMILIES?

Every story is unique, but there are a few common reasons that children end up in government care. 

  • Poverty. Many families struggle to make ends meet in Romania. This reality forces many to make the difficult decision of giving their children to the orphanages where they will at least have their basic needs met and receive an education. 
  • Abandonment. Lack of economic opportunities, human trafficking and other circumstances can lead to parents moving abroad and leave their children behind. This is closely tied to poverty, but it's a very common story and needs to be highlighted separately. 
  • Abuse, neglect, exploitation of any form. Just like other places, if the child protection agency discovers a situation of abuse or mistreatment, they will remove the child and place them into their care. 
  • Death of parents. Some children are orphans in the truest sense of the word although this is a minority group in Romania.  
  • Disabilities. With a lack of resources and education around how to care for children with disabilities, it is common for them to end up in a special institution. 

DO THEY SPEAK ENGLISH? 

Even though many take english classes at school, many of the children lack the desire and motivation to learn it. In our city, it is very common for children in the orphanages to only speak Romanian. However, we do hope to help the small percentage that are interested to grow in their ability to speak it!

DO YOU LIVE AT THE ORPHANAGE? 

No, we have an apartment in the center of the city so we're walking distance from the children in the apartments and a quick 5-10 minute drive to the rest!

ARE THEY ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE ORPHANAGES? CAN THEY LEAVE THE COUNTRY?

The kids are allowed time outside of the orphanages, usually an hour or two a day. We will often see them around town walking around with each other. During the holidays and summer break, some of them will spend time with their families in surrounding villages. They cannot leave the EU because they do not have passports and from our understanding, it's very difficult to gain government approval for them to leave Romania before they are 18. 

ARE YOU DOING PREVENTION, RESCUE, OR AFTERCARE FOR HUMAN TRAFFICKING? 

In Romania, we are primarily doing prevention work. The children here are high-risk and vulnerable to trafficking, for both sex and labor. False job opportunities and too-good-to-be-true boyfriends often lure them to Western Europe when they turn 18. Unfortunately, there are some girls and boys (in the orphanages we'll be expanding to in January) that are currently engaged in the sex industry. Once they are part of our program, it will be a mix of prevention and rehabilitation. 

HAVE THESE GIRLS BEEN TRAFFICKED?

Almost all of the girls have NOT been trafficked. As mentioned above, we are aware of sexual exploitation happening in one of the centers. 

ARE THE OLDER KIDS ABLE TO HAVE JOBS?

Yes. Several of the teenagers do have part time jobs. It's most common in the summer. 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY'RE 18? WILL THEY GO TO COLLEGE?

Very few choose the path of higher education. Those that do will continue to receive government assistance while they pursue their degree. For those that don't choose to attend university, the social workers will try to assist them in finding a job. Some will take those jobs, others do not. The lack of education, motivation, and direction contributes to their vulnerability for human trafficking. There is also a strong desire to get out of the city we're in or to leave Romania in general. All of these factors combined make them very susceptible. 

WHAT CITY ARE YOU IN? 

We are in Eastern Romania. We have chosen not to publicize our city as an added safety measure for the kids in our programs. 

 

 

 

VULNERABILITY: POVERTY

When you think of vulnerability, poverty probably comes to mind. However, we often limit our understanding of poverty by only seeing the physical needs. In reality, poverty encompasses the unmet needs of the whole person.

While the lack of basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing are the most obvious and create desperation, there’s also a lack of access to certain things that most of us take for granted. Lack of access to proper education, medical care, and employment opportunities create huge disadvantages, but even this is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Whether they live on the street, in slums, or low-income housing, there are often stigmas attached to these individuals as well. This creates a lack of acceptance, which can also result in a lack of healthy relationships. These individuals are usually pushed to the fringes of society, with little to no support from their peers. They’re often not accepted into certain situations or places and are isolated from opportunity in so many ways. Their place in society often robs them of their dignity so when someone mistreats or exploits them, they’re not surprised. They tend to be easily manipulated because of their desperation. For example, they might be willing to send their children off with strangers in hopes of a better life for not only the child, but for the rest of the family that’s left behind. Combine these realities with the physical lack and you have a very vulnerable person. 

The downfall of most of the aid that’s given to those living in poverty is the lack of understanding that the psychological and emotional needs are just as important as the physical ones (if not more). People need their dignity restored, wounds healed, and hope revived - without these things, there’s poverty of the spirit. 

You can see in a quick assessment around the world that the great majority of those who are living in orphanages and that are victims of human trafficking come from impoverished, marginalized people groups. We must address poverty in a holistic way. It doesn’t only present us with physical needs to be met, but psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual ones as well. Living in poverty often creates a poverty mindset that’s rooted in hopelessness. We must step in, meet the needs of the whole person, and help them overcome the obstacles they face -  whether it’s a lack of provision or believing they’re worthless. Loving our neighbors holistically, no matter their economic status or messy situations, is the only way to address their inner and outer vulnerabilities. 

VULNERABILITY: THE REFUGEE CRISIS

When the refugee crisis began to unfold and take precedence in the media, the first thing that came to my mind was that this is a group of extremely vulnerable people to be trafficked, whether for sex or labor. According to UNHCR, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. And nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.

The trauma that results from war, persecution, fleeing, and the tragedies that happen along the way are leaving people wounded with deep pain and little means for help. And the instability that displacement brings often leads to desperation. These things combined make these individuals extremely vulnerable. They are simply trying to survive, but what we’re seeing instead are thousands of missing children, women who are being sold into sexual slavery, and men that are being forced into hard labor. 

Those on the front lines of this crisis can only offer so many services or a certain level of care before a person is moved to the next step in the resettlement process. The need for deep care and healing  is ever-present, but the transient nature of their lives makes it very difficult to receive it. 

While the world has fought over whether or not to allow these individuals into their countries, it’s left them exposed with no real security or covering. As things continue to progress and the numbers continue to rise, we must find permanent solutions for these individuals. They need a wide variety of services, but more than anything, their value and dignity needs to be reinstated. They need people who are committed to their healing and will walk with them as they recount the traumas and horrors they’ve faced. If a permanent placement is not found, they will continue to be an easy target for exploitation. With human trafficking being the fastest growing crime in the world, we cannot afford to make it easy for these criminal syndicates to source human beings. We must fight to protect the innocent lives of millions - who have already faced great adversity - from becoming another life swept away in the name of exploitation for commercial gain. 

VULNERABILITY: CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE

It is with heaviness in my heart that I write on both the subject of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking. It is also with great hope for victims that I write on these subjects. As a licensed professional counselor who counseled children who have been severely abused as well as adult victims of child sexual abuse for 10+ years, I have seen the severe wound of abuse and the radical redemption of the lives of victims. Holding the tension between grief and hope will be necessary as we tackle these subjects.

Sexual abuse of a child includes touching offenses like fondling, making a child touch an adult’s sexual organs, and penetrating a child’s vagina or anus. Sexual abuse also includes non-touching offenses like engaging in indecent exposure, exposing children to pornography, deliberately exposing a child to the act of sexual intercourse, and masturbating in front of a child.

In order to understand the impact of sexual abuse on a child, it is important to know how we are created - our personhood. First, we are created to have a voice; second, we are created for relationship; third, we are created with power. Our full personhood is to hear and speak (voice), to know and be known (relationship), to love and be loved (power).  

Chronic abuse in children is profound because it is takes away a child’s voice, relationship, and power. Abusers silence children by threatening to kill their loved ones if they speak about their abuse. Children also carry shame and guilt as abusers make them feel responsible for the abuse. Abusers isolate children so they can secretly violate and hurt them, taking away a child’s security and need to be loved. Lastly, abusers oppress children causing them to feel powerless to change their circumstances.  

Since a child’s personhood is violated, most do not realize they are victims of abuse. This is the reason why victims of child sex abuse are at high risk of sex trafficking: the illegal business of recruiting and harboring a person, especially a minor, for sex.  

If a child grows up in isolation with abusive authorities, this becomes their norm. They have not experienced any other type of relationship. Therefore, they may not believe a trafficker who is abusing and isolating them from the outside world is doing anything wrong.  

Furthermore, victims suffer from shame, guilt, and low self-worth. This is sometimes the hardest to break through as they have lived a life feeling responsible for their abuse. It devastatingly keeps victims from placing appropriate responsibility on the abuser, allowing traffickers to get away from prosecution.  

Lastly, shame keeps victims from seeking mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual freedom. Since their voice is silenced, security is destroyed, and power is removed, victims often live a life of abuse.

Words cannot express the atrocity of abusers who take advantage of the innocence and vulnerability of children who know nothing more than to trust…just to trust. I have seen children who have been safely removed from their abusers cry and long for their abusers. Through treatment, I have worked with adult victims of child sex abuse who learn to speak again, learn how to relate, and reclaim their power to be used for good in this very broken world.

In my years of counseling, I have learned one of the greatest impacts does not require training…a constant presence. Victims need someone who will listen to their story over and over again, love them unconditionally, and hope for them. I am grateful for those who are a voice to the voiceless, a presence to the unknown, and a fortress for the weak. 

 

Edna Lee, MA, LPC-S

Reference: Langberg, Diane M., Ph.D.  Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse.  Florida: Xulon Press, 2003.

VULNERABILITY: THE FATHERLESS

The connection between the orphan crisis and human trafficking cannot be denied. Whether a child is living in an institution or in a foster home, the likelihood of them being exploited or trafficked is incredibly high. For example, the head of Florida’s trafficking task force estimates that 70 percent of child trafficking victims are foster youth. A study in New York found that 75 percent of children who were sexually exploited for commercial purposes had spent time in foster care. With having personally heard from some of the exploited youth in New York City myself, I can assure you that this is true. I’ll never forget the story of a young girl who had been living on the streets. She shared with us that the first time she had ever received a hug from a man was from her pimp. You can imagine the emotional bond that was forged in that moment. For the first time in her life she felt loved, safe, and secure. Unfortunately, it was in the arms of the man who later exploited her.

Related to the orphan crisis is what’s often referred to as ‘the fatherless generation.’ The amount of single parent households or children being raised without their father is truly astounding. It is also one of the recurring themes in victims of sex trafficking in the west. Growing up without a father often leads to many emotional and relational issues. The pain that exists as a result of this can be a catalyst for that child to then attempt to fill those voids in someone else.

All humans possess basic emotional needs. We all have them; we can’t get around them. These needs have to be met so if we, the caregivers, don’t step in and meet those needs in a healthy way, someone else with ill intentions will. The thread of unmet emotional needs is one that is too often woven into the lives of these children and is usually the thread that is used by traffickers to lure them into captivity. Playing on emotional and psychological wounds, their exploiters often become everything to them. The psychological chains that are developed while being exploited can be extremely difficult to break as they are dependent on the man or woman who is abusing them. 

Traffickers, or those who set out to harm and exploit, are truly some of the greatest psychologists that exist because of their ability to manipulate. They know exactly what to say and how to act in order to wiggle their way into the lives of the girls and boys they intend to exploit. They are so committed to their craft that it has become a science to them. For those of us on the opposing team, we must be even more committed and work to prevent this from happening in the first place.  And, we must be ready to receive the shattered hearts who have faced great pain and fulfill the promises their exploiters could not: to be a safe place to mend, heal, and find freedom.  

We cannot tackle an issue like human trafficking without addressing the vulnerabilities that put people at risk for exploitation. While this issue may seem bleak, there is always hope. We have the ability to love children near and far who are growing up in these situations. And a loving presence is not only what these children need, but what they desire. Loving the vulnerable is how we can end exploitation so I challenge you to take up the cause of the fatherless and transform their lives. We must extend our hearts and be willing to embrace these children and their vulnerabilities before they fall into the traps of injustice.