My friend David Chronic, who leads the ministry of Word Made Flesh (Cuvintul Intrupat) in Romania, based in Galati, has written an interesting evaluation of the situation of our dear and sad country (the source, HERE).
It is interesting sometimes to see yourself through the eyes of others. I hope you will find this reading interesting, even if painful.
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Every few years I try to put together an overview of Romania to help you have a general idea of the situation. My hope is that you will know better how to pray and to see how the poor are particularly affected. If you are not a lover of numbers, I apologize. Although some of the statistics are more than a year old, these are the most recent figures available. I have not cited the sources for each study, but if you are interested, I can get you those.
Thank you for taking these stories and statistics before the Father in prayer.
Yours in Christ,
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The Government and Corruption
Christmas 1989 marked the history of Romania with the so-called “revolution” – a benchmark by which transition and development in the country are measured. Twenty years on, Romania is a member of the European Union. The country recently completed presidential elections. They were somewhat reminiscent of the U.S. elections of 2000 in that one candidate (Geoana) was declared victorious only to have the other candidate (Basescu) win by 0.66% after all the votes were counted – many of which came from Romanians working abroad.
Back for another five years as head of the state, Basescu is reducing the number of public servants (deputies) by 10%, which will reduce government spending and bureaucracy. A greater challenge is parliament. In November the government collapsed, causing concern for investors and halting the planned loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While other EU countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal an Ireland are looking to Germany and France to help their indebted governments, Romania has appealed to the US-based IMF for a loan of 20 billion Euros.
Another challenge for the government is ongoing corruption. Although the anti-corruption department is attempting for national systemic change, the Romanian parliament has blocked high-level investigations, and the capacity of the Romanian judicial system remains weak. Transparency International ranks Romania at 71 (compare with the U.S. at 19), the highest in the EU.
Although many promises are made to the poor to court their vote during election year, many of our friends feel marginalized by the political process. Practically, they are helped when the government creates and invests in better social services, when employment opportunities are accessible, when judicial systems don’t take advantage of those who can’t afford to defend themselves, and when bribery no longer blocks the doors for those who can’t afford them in areas like medical treatment and government signatures. But campaign promises are quickly forgotten. Many of our friends are at risk of losing their social housing. Few of our friends understand public institutions like medical clinics, police departments and courthouses.
President Clinton’s Ambassador to Romania, Mr. Rosapepe, praises Romania as “the miracle of the Balkans” for integrating into the global economic, political and military systems. While Romania’s economy is hit as a result of this integration, Rosapepe says optimistically that at least it’s a ‘crisis of capitalism and not a crisis of communism.”
With foreign banks taking over the financial system and rising incomes driving expectations, Romania had its own real-estate bubble. When 70% of Romania’s exports go to the EU, a recession in Germany means a recession in Romania. However, it is not simply that Romania’s banks are tied to western Europe, they are owned by western Europe. When western banks need cash to cover bad debt, they pull money out of their Romanian holdings causing the Romanian currency to fall and drying up of money available to loan. This mall was supposed to open in 2008 but has been worked on little in all of 2009 and is still far from completion. (The conflicting “opening dates” on their website only make it more comical.)
Also, the boom in foreign investment (which dropped by 43% in the first half of 2009) drove up the value of Romanian currency. As many Romanians borrowed in Euros, the fall of the currency meant that many of our friends who have lost homes, cars and hopes for building a more stable future.
At the beginning of 2009, economists were still predicting growth of at least 3%. Not only did that not happen, but the economy shrank by almost 7%. The hopeful prediction for 2010 is for 0.5% growth. In December 2008, unemployment was at 4.4%; now it’s at 7.8%. In Galati it is much higher. 1,325 people lost their jobs in December 2009, bringing the rate to 11.1%. Keep in mind that almost all of our friends that have jobs work on the black market. It is estimated that between 1.4 and 1.5 million Romanians work on the black market, which is attractive to employers because they do not have to pay taxes. These workers receive substantially less than minimum wage (41% receive less than half of minimum wage). But the worker “pays” in more ways than just cheap employment. They also do not have health insurance, a pension, or unemployment benefits. There are not statistics on how many black market laborers have lost their jobs, but we personally know many that have.
The government, under EU restrictions, is mandating wage increases. Currently, average incomes in Romanian households are about a fourth of that in older EU member states. For a comparison, minimum wage in Romania is about 150 Euros a month, while in France it is 1,200 Euros.
In 1980, Romania had a foreign debt estimated between 11-14 billion dollars when Ceaucescu imposed austere restrictions on consumption and imports – a policy that raised the poverty level by 80% during the 80s. He was successful, however, in paying off the deficit. Today, the Romanian deficit stands at 10.3 billion dollars. In order to help the economy recover, the government is seeking a 20 billion Euro loan from the IMF. Because of a failed parliament, the loan was on hold until the end of January. Interestingly, today’s government, like Ceaucescu’s, is pressing for increasing exports and reducing consumption (by 5%). Perhaps, as Rosapepe said, it is good that this is a capitalist crisis and not a communist one, but the approach to solving the debt problem is quite similar.
Speaking of capitalism, before the crisis of the US auto manufacturers, the Romanian government approved the aid of 57 million Euros to Ford in setting up a factory in Romania. While this certainly means jobs for Romanians, it will take many years for the Romanian subsidies and tax breaks to be recovered.
For the poor, their economic crisis didn’t’ start because rich banks made risky bets. The poor have known little other than a constant economic crisis, but they have never received a bail-out. As banks and insurance companies are saved at public expense, capital and currency is transferred from the non-rich to the rich, accentuating the gap between the rich and the poor.
Although the economic downturn forced some Romanians to return from working abroad, approximately 2.5 million Romanians are working abroad (primarily in Italy and Spain). In 2007 and 2008, Romania was the top country in the world for transferring money to their home country. But this was greatly reduced in 2009.
The friends that we have working in other countries experience exploitation by their employers and sometimes racism in the country of employment.
But the biggest problem is the estimated 170,000 “migration orphans” in Romania. UNICEF estimates that 350,000 children have been left by at least one parent. Because of the promise of higher wages, many of our friends have left their children to find better jobs in Western Europe. Many of them justify their actions by saying that they are doing this for their children. But children suffer neglect, receive less education and have little stability. The effects from parents leaving their children are never good.
Prostitution/ Child Trafficking
Children left without parents means they are extremely vulnerable. The department against the traffic of human beings says that sexually exploited children remains high and the number of children trafficked from Romania to other EU states has increased.
On January 25, 2010, it was reported that Galati is the leading county in human trafficking (especially for prostitution) in the EU. 780 cases were reported in all of Romania in 2009. A girl is sold for between 2500 and 5000 Euros.
Still, there are proposals in the government debating the legalizing of commercial sex. The reasoning is that it will enable authorities to control sexually transmitted diseases. It also would provide revenue for the state.
The government reports some 900 street children in Romania, 152 of whom were living in the street with their families; 253 without their families; and the rest were working in the street during the day and returning home at night. But, as you can imagine, the number of the non-registered street population is much higher. In fact, the totals for Bucharest alone probably surpass the government estimates for the entire country.
Still, fewer children are coming to the streets because of increased support to families, day centers and night shelters. Many of those on the streets are there because of alcoholism, drug addictions and psychological problems. Others have lost their homes and find themselves and their families on the streets or squatting in dilapidated buildings.
There are about 82,000 children in the care of the state, and the number continues to grow. 24,000 children are living in orphanages – most are between 14 and 17 years old. Twenty years after Ceaucescu, some institutions are still horrific. The BBC recently investigated one: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8425001.stm.
And child abandonment remains high. In Galati, there is no more room in the orphanages, making it difficult for authorities to deal with new children coming into the system.
The EU is pressing the government to change legislation that would make national adoptions easier and that would re-open inter-country adoption while alleviating the corruption that tainted the process in the past.
Although great efforts were made in the last decade to de-institutionalize children, the youth from institutions continue to struggle to integrate into society. One major problem is the lack of vocational education and training.
Many of the growing street population is comprised of the elderly, often seen begging on street corners and church benches. Many others are hidden in homes called “asylums.” Again, statistics are hard to come by but one asylum I visited housed 160 people in ten rooms with insufficient staff or resources. Visitors and staff confirm that there has been little change in this state institution since communism fell.
Those with disabilities
Although more attention has been given to helping children with disabilities, the majority (72%) still do not receive any education. Nearly a third of the children with mental disabilities are not accepted by schools offering special education.
Many children with disabilities in institutions are not offered solutions for re-integration into the community which may lead to their automatic transfer to residential care institutions for adults.
24% of all persons under 17 years of age are living in poverty, of which 350,000 suffer severe poverty. Children were the most affected by the economic decline and recovered the least in the improvements caused by economic stimulii.
Children that live in a single-parent home face a 15% higher risk of poverty than those with both parents. The rate of children in poverty in the country is double of that in urban settings.
The infant mortality rate continues to be the highest in the EU, while life expectancy is 8-9 years less than in “developed” countries.
Although contraception has become more readily available, many youth still view abortion as the easiest method. One family planning study estimates that 106,000 youth between the ages of 15 and 19 have had an abortion.
From 1996-2000 we visited about 40 children HIV+ that had been abandoned in a hospital. In a partnership with Heart of a Child we found foster families for the kids and created support for them. The HIV/AIDS situation has remained stable. 50% of the new cases are young people between the ages of 15 and 29. 78% of the cases are sexually transmitted. Intervenious needles cause less than 2% of the cases.
Over 7000 youth live with HIV/SIDA as long term survivors of those infected in the late ‘80s. This group is in need of professional skills and vocational training so they can fully integrate into society. Sadly, many of the children (about 41%) with HIV/AIDS do not receive education because of stigmatization or other social problems.
One of the boys that we have known since 1996 has been apprenticed and employed by a close friend who is a plumber. Not only is he teaching the youth a trade but also giving him skills for life.
Education and School Drop-out Rates
While Romania typically performs well at the academic olympics and places many students at top universities throughout the world, 53% of teenagers have difficulty reading and comprehending a text.
Currently, children are legally required to attend school until they are 10 years old, but the enrollment in primary school has decreased. The EU is investing in the construction of kindergartens, as they are insufficient for the number of children. The number of school drop-outs tripled between 2000 and 2007. Although education is “free,” there are hidden costs like, school supplies, clothes, food, transportation, paying for security guards, teachers’ supplies and materials, and recreation. These costs represent a large percentage of the poor’s income, often causing parents not to enroll children or forcing children to simply not attend school.
Education of Parents
At our Community Center we strive to collaborate with the parents for the sake of the children. The government supports mothers or fathers with about USD 200 per month to care for their child during their first two years of life. 10% of mothers go back to work before the child turns one; 50% return to work after the child turns two.
Sadly, 42% of parents in Romania understand the importance of the first two years of life for the development of the child. Many children are raised by their grandparents or close relatives during their early years, which means little interaction with the parents at this important stage of development.
Recent studies indicate that 48% of parents use corporal punishment on their children – mothers being the ones carrying this out in 85% of the families. Mothers also are the ones encouraging and praising their children. Only 17% of families read to children under the age of 1. Also, 30% of babies learn to watch TV – mainly because they are fed was the mother’s watch TV – which is a factor in attachment disorders and attention deficit disorders.
25% of Romanian children suffer from chronic health problems, a 500% growth compared to 2007. The main problems are obesity, backbone deformations and eye-related affections. The growth is also affected, the average height decreasing 2-3 centimeters: http://english.hotnews.ro/stiri-press_review-4203286-what-the-newspapers-say-september-3-2008.htm
Romania law criminalizes adults who force children to work. Still, there is a high incidence of child begging, and the government is struggling to find and prosecute companies or individuals that illegally employ minors for work. The punishment is 7 years in prison. In 2008, 1072 cases of child labor had been reported, from which only 125 had been confirmed. Another report states that 70,000 children needed to work instead of going to school, of which only a third who work on the streets are literate.
School drop-out rates are high and enrollment is low. Many experience segregation at school.
Over 500,000 Romanis are illiterate. Poverty levels are three times higher (77.2%) for Romanis than other ethnic groups.
Approximately 19% of Roma men and 11% of Roma women are employed, compared with 40% of men and 31% of women of other ethnic groups.
While statistics are difficult to come by, it is estimated than in Bucharest, 21% of women have faced domestic assault. The International Day Against Domestic Violence, November 25th, is receiving more attention in the country. Ironically, on that day last year, one of our boys came to the Center badly bruised from his father’s beating him with an ax handle.
Drug abuse continues to be relatively low, but the number of users continues to grow. In the past year, many stores have opened which sell “botanical” pills that have similar effects as illegal drugs. Galati has seen more of these stores open than any place else in the country. Recently, a death has caused the government to take action against these legal drugs.