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.