The former institutionalised children of Romania come together to investigate the abuses of Ceauşescu’s orphanages

Photography credits: Silviu Ghetie

Article originally published by Mediafax

A new step forward in the deinstitutionalisation process emerged in Romania: the creation of a network of adults having spent their childhood in Ceauşescu’s orphanages. Federeii is a network aiming to unite the victims of the Romanian massive child institutionalisation period and together, to partner up with child protection authorities in order to advocate for the creation of a parliamentary or presidential inquiry which would investigate the abuses that institutionalised children faced during the communist regime. The name of the network evokes a strong message in itself because the term “Federeii” represents the mocking name given to children living in orphanages.

Mirela Oprea, ChildPact Secretary General and Member of Honour of Federeii Network has declared during the launching event of the association that such a structure was necessary because trauma of these institutionalised children is still persisting in the Romanian society. “We are investigating the situation of the former political prisoners and of their abusers, but we have not yet started to talk about the ones who have exploited children in orphanages and we have not yet looked after what these victims have become nowadays”, said Mirela Oprea.

She emphasised that both the civil society and the former institutionalised children have now reached an age of maturity allowing them to cooperate together. This collaboration between advocators and former child victims is the next logical step needed to further advance child protection in Romania. “We do not know how many of today’s adults have had the institutionalisation experience in their childhood because they have no voice in society”, explained Mirela Oprea. The goal of  Federeii Network is to help those who have experienced communist institutionalisation in their childhood become a voice society. “We want to support the creation of a parliamentary of presidential inquiry which would investigate all these abuses. Also, we wish to support all those who are still confronted with the scars of the past by offering them services that would help them in the reconstruction of their identity and by changing their perception with regard to institutionalisation” added Mirela Oprea.

Up to this point no one knows the exact number of people who have spent parts of their childhood in the child orphanages. The network’s manifest enounces that “despite the massive investments made for the child protection system, no post-communist government conducted a research to find out the number of institutionalised children, but we can estimate the numbers are around several hundred thousand. In 1989 there were around 100,000 institutionalised children in the so-called Romanian orphanages. Many of us were part of these children, living in such miserable conditions that they became the subject of numerous international broadcasts” explains the manifesto of Federeii.

The effects of institutionalisation are devastating for the development of children on the long term. These children have all gone through humiliating situations during and after institutionalisation. “We were not though any of the basic social rules during the time we have spent in the orphanages. Therefore, once we left the institutions most of us were incapable to assure themselves a decent life, having difficulties in finding a job or a home, and having to do anything to earn their leaving. Consequently, in the Romanian prison system, the adults who experienced institutionalisation in their childhood are overrepresented. Many of us are hiding from their families and friends the fact that they were raised in orphanages. Many are still looking for their biological families or are still fighting the emotional and physical consequences of the life in orphanages.”

The President of Federeii, Daniel Rucǎreanu, explained he had been planning on this project since 2013 when he started searching for people who have gone through a similar experience with him. Rucǎreanu explained that most of the adults institutionalised during childhood are marked by the time they have spent in orphanages.

The Vice-president of Federeii, actor Costel Caşcaval, emphasised that, in contrast with the communist prisoners who were mature and knew why they got to be imprisoned, the 4 years old children who were institutionalised had no idea why they were sent to orphanages, nor how to defend themselves. Nonetheless, much of the public discourse has been directed towards Romania’s political prisoners and nothing has been said about the abused children from orphanages. He reminded how during the communist regime, all the cases of theft or burglary which the police could not solve were attributed to escaped children from orphanages. These were afterwards handcuffed and punished in front of all the other children.

The Secretary General of the network, Vişinel Bǎlan, mentioned how he still remembered the beatings received because he would not know how to count until ten or how he jumped from the floor to run away from the orphanage after being beaten yet again or how he was raped in the same night in the train station.

The initiators of the project mentioned that they want to make a museum remembering the orphanages of the Romanian communist regime where photographs, videos, documents and objects of the children in that period would be presented. The first step of this project is to host a virtual museum on the network’s website.

Any person who can bring proof that they were institutionalised for at least one day in their childhood can become a member of  Federeii Network. Also, friends, families and any other interested people can become observing members within the association. Associations like “Federeii” exist in UK, Australia, Kenya, US. Romania could be an inspiration for our region, and the model of Federeii could be followed by countries like Moldova, Serbia, Albania, Armenia and Georgia.

More photos of the launching event available here.