Children of Decree 770. by Adele Rickerby

Photo of an abandoned child in a cot in the Institute for the Unsalvageables located in Sighetu Marmatiei, a town in Transylvania at Romania’s Northern border with Ukraine. 1992. Copyright, Thomas B. Szalay photography.

On the first of October, 1966, Nicolae Ceausescu enacted Decree 770, which caused untold suffering for the women and children of Romania.

Decree 770 declared abortion and contraception illegal, except for women over forty-five, women who had already borne four children ( later raised to five), women whose lives would be in danger if their pregnancy were to go full-term, and women who had conceived through rape or incest.

In 1966, the population of Romania was approximately nineteen million. With decree 770, Ceausescu’s aim was to increase the population to thirty million by the year 2,000, in the belief that population growth would lead to economic growth. By 1976, the population had increased to approximately twenty-one million. An increase of about two million or twelve percent.

Women of child-bearing age were subjected to monthly gynaecological examinations to monitor a pregnancy or ensure that an illegal abortion was not carried out.

There was a monthly tax on childless people twenty-five years and over, married or not.

Any doctor convicted of performing an illegal abortion faced a jail term of between ten to twenty years. Despite this, illegal backyard abortions took place, sometimes resulting in sterility, infections and even death.

During these dark days of Communism, thousands of babies were abandoned by their impoverished parents into State-run institutions. After Ceausescu and his wife, Elena were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day, 1989, journalists from around the world descended on Romania and discovered the horror of these institutions. Approximately one-hundred thousand children had been abandoned in these institutions, where children were malnourished, neglected and physically and sexually abused.

Children born during this time were called ”Decretei”, children of the Decree. Decretei comes from the Romanian word ”Decree” meaning ”Decree”.

Empty shop shelves and queues for food were common during Communist era Romania. Lack of food meant malnourished mothers gave birth to premature and underweight babies. Hospitals fed these babies intravenously with unscreened blood. Hypodermic needles were in short supply and used over and over again without proper sterilisation. As a result of which more than ten thousand babies were infected with H.I.V causing an epidemic of A.I.D.S.

Once a baby or child had been abandoned into a hospital or institution, it was uncommon for biological parents to visit on a regular basis or to take their child back home.


8 thoughts on “Children of Decree 770. by Adele Rickerby

  1. Hi there, I’m curious, that child in the photo looks a lot like a little boy I was helping in Siret in 1993 … he was called Nelu.

    And I’m not so sure about this general designation of the children being “abandoned” I was there in 1992 and 1993 and at that time we understand it had been government policy (pre-revolution) to assess children’s developmental potential and classify some as “irecuperat”, basically beyond treatment, and place them in institutions like the Siret Spitalul de Copii Neuropsihiatrie regardless of their parents’ wishes.

    Sure, some would have been abandoned, but we understood most had been forcibly removed. As time went on, we discovered in our work with the communities in the area, that there were severely disabled children still living with their families without any support and, as far as we were told, these children had been “concealed” to prevent them being confiscated. The positive outcome was this resulted in a very successful outreach program in the areas surrounding Siret


    1. Hello Benedict. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and add insight and information based on your personal experiences. I am sorry but I do not know the name of the little boy. The photo is copyright and was taken by Thomas B. Szalay, who lives in Utah. Last year, I collaborated with Tom, who supplied me with photos for the revised edition of my memoir; ”The Promise I Kept”, available on amazon. Tom has also written a memoir; ”Even the Sparrow has Found a Home”. I will ask Tom and Izidor Ruckel if they know the name of the little boy. What was the name of the organisation you were working with involved in the outreach?


      1. Hi, thanks for the reply. The little boy I knew was “resident” in the Siret hospital I mentioned, but I know kids had been moved around between the hospitals in the region. I don’t know that he ever got adopted or returned to his family, he had a number of complex issues.

        I recall in 1993 we made some good progress with him getting him to walk more independently and then one day he “apparently” fell down the stairs or something and broke his femur. I used to go down to the general hospital in Suceava to see hime, he was stuck in there all on his own for weeks in traction. He had a reputation for being awkward, biting, pinching etc. But I found him fine, and he was a really sweet kid when he got over his fear. I was often paired off to spend time with more difficult kids as they seemed to respond better to me, I think it was because I would shave my head and (if you recall) that was used as a punishment in those places, so I guess they saw me as one of them!

        I wasn’t personally all that involved with the outreach teams, but sometimes a physio would take me along as I did a lot of work making/adapting chairs and standing frames and things. That was always fun, the inside of the Spitalul de Copii was depressing.

        I’ve got quite a lot of photos … somewhere … in the back of a storage locker

        I worked for an organisation called Jacob’s Well, there was also an organisation in there called Romanian Challenge (an off shoot of the Challenge Anneka TV program you may have seen).


  2. Hi Benedict,

    I asked Tom and put a post up on my facebook pages, but sadly, Tom said he didn’t know the name of this little boy in the photograph. But I have decided to call him Nelu anyway. Yes- it would have been very depressing working there but worthwhile and inspiring none the less. There are a lot of Christian N.G.O’s working in Romania. God Bless you.


    1. Yes, the one I was with is still working in that town, with the guys who were re-homed in the area after that institution was closed down. Unfortunately I lost contact with most of them after some fall-out that had nothing to do with me, but I was perceived to be in the “wrong group”. You’ll know from your work how unfortunately factional these things can be.
      So I think I’ll add to that a confession/apology that those of us working in those places had a negative perception of you guys who came to adopt individuals out of the institutions. We were dealing with hundreds of kids in desperate need of care and love and attention, which we were just not capable of adequately providing, so one family turning up to provide one kid with an opportunity for a better life seemed, to us, unfair to all the others.
      Someone gave me a book by a lady called Deborah Fowler who adopted a boy she called Michael at around the same time you did what you did. I revisited my opinions and decided I was judgemental and wrong.
      I’m not a Christian, (in spite of my name) but obviously that charity was, aside from a philosophical debate about who we are and why we do these things, I learned an early lesson in respect, I think my Christian colleagues were dealing with the situation better than the rest of us, we were just drinking huge amounts of vodka and arguing about how humans could do this to each other. That is an expansive question.


  3. Hi Benedict,
    I made an assumption that, because you were volunteering with a Christian organisation, that you were a Christian. But that does not detract from the fact that, in God’s eyes, your work there was and still is, of enormous value. It’s hard to believe that someone who worked there all those years ago is still providing support to those abandoned children, now adults. Back in Australia and volunteering with International Adoptive Families Association of Queensland to Co-ordinate seminars on Inter-country Adoption and other roles, yes, I did find it disappointingly very factional. Despite the fact that we had the same goals. One of the reasons which I wrote my memoir, was to disprove the rumor mongers saying that I had done an illegal adoption. There is no need to apologize, but thank you anyway. I understand how you feel and the ones left behind are always in my memory. Soon after I arrived back in Australia, the Romanian government halted all international adoptions due to the pressure from the global community to stop the illegal trafficking of children, still going on to this day. So I also have a very negative perception of the mainly American couples, who were buying babies on the black market; the going rate was $20,000 at the time, and whisking them away before the birth mother’s could change their minds. So I guess I should be a good Christian and forgive them of that. It was indeed unfair to the thousands of children left behind who could have been adopted legally and had a better life. There doesn’t seem much hope of International Adoptions again from Romania.


    1. No worries about the religious stuff, I’m not offended because I know your assumption is complimentary. I just need to be conscious not to mislead
      Well I can’t comment on the adoption stuff as, obviously, that wasn’t something I was ever involved in. But I’d be hesitant to judge anyone who is adopting a child from these environments, as would you. Americans seem to have funny ideas about what it means when you pay some money for something, and that is a big issue in those places .. we both know a whole industry appeared at about the same time the need did.
      Regardless, I realised from reading your posts that your photographs come from your friend and you, perhaps, did not have direct experience of the Siret spitalul. In case you never saw it this is a link to a documentary that was made before I went there.
      I knew some of the european volunteers who were there at that time, and, of course many of the kids.
      I went there around 18 months after that documentary was made.


  4. Hi Benedict,

    Thank you for the link. You are right, I did not have direct experience of the Siret spitulal. I can post the link to my community facebook page as well.

    All the best,


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