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Ceausescu required women to bear at least five children, causing the placement of 150,000 children, many infected with H.I.V. into State run orphanages. Photograph courtesy of Cynthia Johnson/Getty.
By 1989, when the dictator was killed, up to 20,000 had died in Romania’s children’s homes. Now criminal cases may finally be held and those responsible for these deaths, brought to justice.
They were the pictures that, for many across the world, were the defining image of the aftermath of Romania’s 1989 revolution: emaciated children clothed in rags, looking into the camera with desperate eyes amid the squalid decay of the country’s orphanages.
Christmas Day will mark 30 years since Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania’s megalomaniac, isolationist dictator, was convicted in an impromptu trial and shot dead together with his wife. His execution ended more than two decades of rule that brought poverty and misery to the majority of the country’s population.
In the three decades since his fall, only a handful of people have faced legal punishment for their roles in Ceaușescu’s repressive regime, and there have been no criminal cases over the tens of thousands of children mistreated by the regime’s inhumane network of juvenile internment institutions.
The country’s orphanages began to fill up from the late 1960’s when the State decided to battle a demographic crisis by banning abortion and removing contraception from sale.
Many of the children in the orphanages were abandoned by parents too poor to look after them.
The most horrific abuses took place in orphanages for disabled children, who were taken away from their families and institutionalised. At the age of three, disabled children would be sorted into three categories; curable, partially curable and incurable. Across the country, there were twenty-six institutions for category three disabled children. Investigators from the Institute picked three to investigate and found shocking mortality levels amongst the children. Seventy percent of the registered deaths were from pneumonia. There is testimony of children suffering from frostbite, of children literally being eaten by rats, being kept in cages or being smeared in their own faeces.
The list of those being prosecuted for the deaths is classified.