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Disabled children suffer abuse in Romania-NGO

Written by: Staff
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BUCHAREST, May 11 (Reuters) A US rights group has accused Romania of allowing dozens of disabled children to suffer without proper food and care at state-run institutions despite the country's vast child protection reforms.

Mental Disability Rights International said in a report that its investigators visiting facilities in the Black Sea state earlier this year and in 2005 found dozens of children ''detained in adult facilities in conditions that were life-threatening.'' ''The children were ... emaciated. Their spindly arms and legs were twisted into contorted positions from disuse and atrophy,'' said one unnamed investigator quoted by the report yesterday.

Other investigators spoke of children confined to cribs or tied in bedsheets and covered in feces and sores, and of an ''eery silence'' in wards where babies had little contact with caregivers.

Romanian officials said children mentioned in the report had been moved after had they received the information, while Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu promised an investigation.

''At the end of the evaluation, the commission will file a report,'' Romania's centrist government said in a statement.

Romania has launched sweeping reforms to improve the plight of its orphans after coming under heavy international criticism when the 1989 fall of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime revealed tens of thousands of children locked up in vast, filthy orphanages.

The reforms have won praise from the European Union, which Romania hopes to join next year.

But the Washington-based MDRI said disabled children did not benefit from the new system, which aims to move abandoned children from institutions to foster care.

''Thousands of children with mental disabilities face the prospect of a life-time segregated from society in abusive facilities,'' the group said.

''We are concerned that many of the stated reforms in Romania -- for which the EU has given much credit to Romania -- do not protect the basic human rights of children with disabilities.'' Bogdan Panait, head of Romania's children's protection agency, appeared to confirm that some children had been treated inappropriately but said their conditions had improved.

''We received a report on this situation from our control commission in June last year and we have fixed it,'' he told a news conference.

''It is true that (some) children were fed only with bread and water ... But they were moved elsewhere. They look totally different now,'' Panait said.

Last year, Romania banned international adoptions following EU concerns that corruption could lead to baby trafficking. The ban won praise from the European Commission but some Western observers say cumbersome bureaucracy in the former Soviet bloc state hobbles reforms that should ensure local care for abandoned children.

Many US officials have pressured Romania to relax the ban and allow foreign adoption of children whose adoption process was caught up in a three-year moratorium that preceded the ban.

REUTERS PDS PM0428

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