Disability and Poverty in RomaniaIn Romania, a former communist country in Southeastern Europe, the institutionalization of people with disabilities and orphans during Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime has had lasting consequences on the country — especially on the societal perception of people with disabilities. However, disability rights have advanced in recent years. While mental institutions are falling out of use in Romania, the government has not replaced them with other social structures to provide opportunities for people with disabilities, leaving this group without many options. As a result, disability and poverty in Romania are closely related, with 37.6% of Romanians with disabilities at risk of poverty in 2020. Thanks to NGO work and government initiatives, this percentage is significantly lower than it was a decade ago when it stood at 44.1%.

A History of Neglect

At the end of Ceaușescu’s rule in 1989, an estimated 100,000 children were in orphanages, a result of his pro-natalist policies, which banned abortion and contraception to stimulate population growth. During this time, many families abandoned their children because of poverty or disability and Romania still grapples with the grave repercussions of Ceaușsescu’s policies today.

According to World Without Orphans, more than 50,000 Romanian children are still in the social care system. Oftentimes, children who arrived healthy to the institutions later developed disabilities due to poor conditions within the orphanages and institutions. The vast majority of Romanian adults with disabilities live independently or under private care today. However, around 17,500 are still in public residential institutions. The deinstitutionalization process in Romania is slow and ongoing and the country is struggling to replace institutions with community-based initiatives to pull Romanians with disabilities out of poverty.

Employing People With Disabilities

People with disabilities who grew up in the Ceaușescu-era orphanages are now adults and can benefit from Romania’s membership in the European Union. The EU insisted that Romania reforms its orphanage system аs a condition to enter the Union. However, stigmas around disability remain and limit the progress Romania makes. Disability and poverty in Romania are serious problems, with some estimates placing the employment rate of the disabled as low as 17.97%, according to European Semester. In 2018, the European Semester found that around 45.5% of people with disabilities had a job, but organizations may be using different metrics to define disability and employment.

Many people with disabilities are capable of working. However, employers deny them jobs or only offer the lowest-paying jobs, leading many people with disabilities into poverty. According to Eurostat, 40.9% of Romanians with disabilities report facing “difficulty making ends meet” in comparison to 28.6% of the general population.

Disability and poverty in Romania also have close links because of accessibility issues in the country. Another challenge for Romanians with disabilities is a lack of accommodations in education and the workplace as well as poor, outdated infrastructure that limits their transportation in public spaces. According to the European Semester, there is little support for children with disabilities in the education system because teachers do not have disability training and schools do not have accessibility technologies. This contributes to high percentages of young people with disabilities dropping out of school early, which is a factor that increases poverty.

Romanian Laws

While Romanian laws protect people with disabilities against discriminating behaviors within the workplace, the implementation of these laws in practice is uncommon. While laws guarantee employment and accommodation in the workplace for people with disabilities, employers are often unwilling to hire people with impediments because of prejudice and a lack of understanding of how to better support people with disabilities. Some challenges that people with disabilities face within the workplace are a lack of flexible working hours, poor infrastructure and discrimination by coworkers.

In the last decade, the Romanian government has launched many national projects to tackle disability and poverty in Romania. The Romanian National Employment Agency is launching 13 projects worth €650 million with the support of European Union funding to stimulate the employment of people with disabilities, European Semester reports. Many of these projects, such as Employ, Don’t Assist, which hopes to employ people with Down syndrome, started in the last year, therefore, data on their success is not yet available.

Ophori Cosmetics

One project that has garnered much attention is a startup company, Ophori Cosmetics. Based in Brasov, Romania, Ophori Cosmetics is a producer of handmade and sustainable cosmetics. However, the company’s focus on environmental impact is not the only reason for the media attention it gains. The company is investing in the community by creating jobs for the most vulnerable and the entire production staff of Ophori Cosmetics consists of people with disabilities.

According to Bogdan Dimciu, an administrator at Ophori Cosmetics, the enterprise began as a workshop where people with disabilities created products for donation to the community, acquiring skills in the process to aid in their future success in the job market. The founders of Ophori then made a decision to turn the project into a company. All of the employees in Ophori’s production team earn fair wages and continue to receive training from volunteers and therapists to develop their skills.

Looking Ahead

Ophori Cosmetics’ success shows that the perception of people with disabilities in Romania is slowly changing. Small steps such as this can ensure that more people with disabilities secure employment, allowing them to contribute to the economy as productive members of society. While many people with disabilities rely on social benefits to survive, they often do not receive enough to lift them out of poverty. According to European Semester, the monthly allowance of 265 Romanian lei is not enough to make a significant impact on the quality of life of Romanians with disabilities, especially because this marginalized group can often only access the lowest-paying jobs.

Despite Romanian laws ensuring the rights of people with liabilities to employment, many employers are skeptical of hiring people with disabilities and do not know what support to offer. Disability and poverty in Romania are closely related due to a history of neglect and continuing stigmas around disability, but both private and public sectors are making progress.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Among the Roma in Bucharest
Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is a vibrant urban city with booming contemporary institutions and a greater income per capita than the European Union average. However, there remains a population of individuals that do not benefit from Bucharest’s expanding economy: the Roma. Poverty among the Roma in Bucharest is of particular concern. According to Brookings, the Roma in Romania face an employment rate of about 72% and endure a poverty rate of almost 70%.

Who Are the Roma People?

Scholars agree that the Roma people’s ancestors immigrated to Europe from the Punjab region of Northern India, across “what is now Iran, Armenia and Turkey.” From the ninth century forward, the Roma progressively expanded throughout Europe.

As a nomadic group traveling with few essentials or assets, the Roma face widespread marginalization in Europe. Dating back to the 14th century, some of the Roma arrived in Bucharest, Romania, where they became slaves of the state, institutions or private people. In 1860, the Roma became free but they still relied completely on the state and landowners for sustenance and survival. Some Roma attempted to break this dependency by banding together in clans and migrating.

The Roma in Bucharest

The European Union (EU) is home to “between 10 million and 12 million Roma” people. According to the Council of Europe, roughly 1.85 million Roma reside in Romania and make up 8.32% of the population. These are all preliminary estimates because the Roma people usually choose to reveal their ethnicity only to other Roma people. This renders it challenging to estimate the actual number of Roma people in Romania’s capital of Bucharest, although there is no uncertainty that a considerable number of Roma people reside in Bucharest.

Roma Poverty

The Roma people live and travel in close-knit groups with large families. The Roma are one of Europe’s most prominent ethnic minorities. Aside from these characteristics, people know very little about the Roma people; they speak their own language, which is undocumented, they have unique traditions and they keep to themselves.

Poverty among the Roma in Bucharest is largely the most pressing issue within their communities. Seen as a “problem” within Bucharest, the Roma population reside in slums or ghettos where they live in close quarters with few possessions. In the slums, the Roma often live in squalor with minimal food or water.

The Roma people labor in very specific occupations such as fortune-telling, metalwork and agricultural work. Some, on the other hand, do not occupy genuine occupations, but instead, steal and swindle in order to supplement their income due to their circumstances of poverty. Because the Roma face high rates of unemployment, they end up with minimal means of survival.

Apart from marginalization, one of the main issues that greatly contributes to their circumstances of poverty is a lack of education. Because of a lack of documentation or identification, the Roma struggle to access education, health care and other essential services. The Roma experience profound deprivation across every standard —  education, employment and health.

Roma Discrimination

In Bucharest, Europeans often refer to the Roma people as Gypsies, which is a discriminatory term when used by individuals of non-Roma descent. In fact, the term “Gypsy” is one of the most derogatory social labels in Europe, particularly in Romania. The discrimination the Roma endure also impacts their access to the necessary services and resources to live a better quality of life.

What is the Drug Problem?

Many Roma people in Bucharest rely on drugs to help them cope with their difficult circumstances. Drug use is common among individuals of all ages in Bucharest’s Roma ghettos. In an interview with author Max Daly, Dan Popescu, harm-reduction services coordinator at the Asociatia Romana Anti-SIDA (ARAS) said that “The general public’s attitude to the Roma and to the drug addicts is that we are wasting money on nothing, that it’s better to let them die than to help them.”

Due to their lack of legitimate identification, only 45% of the Roma have access to health care and welfare benefits. Roma drug users often use unclean needles, leaving their community with high rates of HIV and hepatitis C. The fact that authorities rarely acknowledge the Roma only exacerbates the situation.

The Good News

The Romanian Harm Reduction Network (RHRN) aims to reduce “risky behaviors” linked with drug abuse “by increasing the degree of communication between partner organizations and improving the quality of services for drug users at the national level.” RHRN develops and encourages reforms aimed at facilitating the application of successful socioeconomic strategies and initiatives aimed at drug users and various socially marginalized subgroups.

To address the drug problem among people in Bucharest, the RHRN provides training to professionals to enhance their “capacity in harm reduction and HIV prevention service provision.” The curriculum covers topics such as syringe exchange initiatives and treatment with opiate substitutes as well as guidelines for communication and advocacy. These collective efforts ensure a more comprehensive response to the drug problem in Romania, with a particular focus on marginalized groups like the Roma.

Despite the fact that the Roma encounter poverty and oppression in Bucharest, various groups are working to help them rise out of poverty to become an empowered, self-sufficient and thriving population.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty Rate in Romania
The elderly poverty rate in Romania is a challenge to not only the elderly population but also the country itself. Romania’s poverty rates for retired individuals and elders over the age of 65 have increased drastically from an already high level.

The Issue

Romania’s elderly at-risk poverty rate reached a record high of 25.1% in the year 2020, whereas it was previously 14.4% in 2012. Additionally, 24.5% of elderly women in Romania are under the poverty line with a pension, comparable to the record high of 25.7% in 2016 and a record low of 22.1% in 2010. Comparably, males with pensions reached a record high of 18% in 2020 and a record low of 7.9% in 2012.

These statistics present an evident truth; as the years pass in Romania, the elderly poverty rate is quickly rising. This leads poor elders to search for work to make enough money to survive, which they often do not have the qualifications for. In the end, impoverished elders rely on pension payments, which some do not even qualify for, while others struggle to survive below the poverty line.

Romania’s Health Care System

Romania has a dual health care system. Similar to countries such as Australia, it has both a private and a public health care system. However, its system differs from others when it comes to the government’s involvement. Romania’s government spends an average of 4% of the country’s GDP on health care, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU. The government does not fund private healthcare, thus leading those in poverty towards government-funded health care, which has proven to be inadequate. Furthermore, those who do pay for private health care do not always get a better deal. Since the government is uninvolved financially, private hospitals can overcharge patients exorbitant amounts for as little as a consultation.

Also, since the year 2007, about 15,700 Romanian medical experts from both private and government-funded institutions left the country to pursue a better salary in other European countries. With a sub-par salary for Romania’s government-paid doctors (some specialists receive as little as $350 a month), Romanian doctors often resort to bribery, in which they charge patients additional fees for even the simplest consultations.

In terms of the elderly poverty rate in Romania, it is clear that either of the two options for health care in Romania can be costly, and their physical health frequently undergoes neglect. As of 2020, only 23.4% of Romanians over the age of 65 would rate their health conditions as “good” or “very good,” while the EU average is almost double this, at 41.1%. Additionally, 66.7% of these people reported issues with walking, and 51.9% with vision problems, which they cannot treatments for. In comparison, only about 40% of adults over the age of 65 in the United States have a disability.

The Pension Problem

Romania’s pension system is likely to face challenges due to the country’s aging population. Romania is facing a demographic challenge, with a population decline of approximately 25% from 21.4 million in 2008 to approximately 15 million in 2050. Though Romania will most likely face additional challenges as a result of the projected population drop, one major issue could be pensions.

Furthermore, the proportion of elderly people in Romania could reach 29.9% by 2050, subsequently leading to a strain on the pension system. With an aging population, more people will require pensions, putting the government in a dilemma about whether to pay the full amount necessary. As proven with the health care system that the Romanian government provided, the corrupt country will not be eager to allocate so much money to pensions.

Having said that, Romania does have a solid pension system in place, which is based on citizens’ contribution to the economy over a minimum contribution period of 15 years. However, a growing elderly population could cause the country’s pension system to crash according to projections, potentially impacting the elderly poverty rate in Romania.

Lastly, another issue with the Romanian pension system is the fraud that seems to consistently reappear throughout the years. One of the greatest scandals occurred in 2009, in which Romania reported $7.15 million in pension fraud. Resolving an issue like this would require stronger pension security and a potential re-evaluation of the pension granting system.

People Against Poverty

People Against Poverty is an NGO that works in six countries, including Romania, to reduce poverty levels. It has been working to reduce poverty in Romania since 2003 and has hosted a variety of projects, including an Agricultural Project which provides resources for people in Romania who live in rural communities. NGOs like People Against Poverty are extremely important when considering poverty reduction in entire countries, and the implementation of its programs can help in solving Romania’s elderly poverty issue.

Elderly poverty in Romania has been an increasing problem within the past decade, and will likely continue to be one into the future. It remains in the hands of the Romanian government to solve this problem before the elderly population reaches a peak. However, hope exists that the population will regulate itself, or that the economy will open more jobs for impoverished elders. With the help of NGOs like People Against Poverty and the growing economy in Romania, there is certainly hope that the elderly poverty rate will decline over the upcoming years.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Unsplash

Romania Battles Recent Diseases
Romania is a beautiful country with rich culture and colorful nature. Romania maintains its traditional folklife with a clash of modernism. If one visited Romania, saw pictures or even watched a documentary, one would see the old and new structural buildings with sheep and cows plaguing the streets. Although thriving, many still consider the country an economically developing nation, with many aspects needing assistance. Currently, Romania is concerned with these recent diseases: the Coronavirus and measles. Diseases in Romania may not always be treatable, but vaccines can make them preventable. 

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted every country. However, it has disproportionately affected those in developing countries like Romania. On February 26, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 received confirmation. Soon after, the coronavirus disease became one of the many diseases in Romania. Romania did not have a stable healthcare system. It did not have the proper resources such as medical equipment, supplies, personnel and let alone enough medical establishments to aid those in more rural areas.

According to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) data graph, Romania appears to face continuously increased spikes of daily infections. The projection estimated for hospital resource use, both beds needed and intensive care units would increase and be in high demand by October 18, 2021. Currently, 27% of Romania’s population has received two vaccinations, compared to 54% in the U.S. Many expect that Romania will stay at 27% while the U.S.’ vaccination percentage continues to grow. Due to the severity of the situation, Romanian authorities took action to spread a national campaign through media channels such as social media and television news to more spaced-out areas in Romania.

Measles

Measles is an infectious disease that affects the respiratory system yet may come across as simple flu. The contagious disease can spread through sneezing and coughing and it is not easy to detect. Many of the diseases in Romania are not curable or treatable but people can prevent them through vaccines and proper methods of prevention. Based on the article, “Measles Epidemics in Romania: Lessons for Public Health and Future Policy” by Stefan Dascalu, measles is the main leading cause of child deaths in Romania. This preventable disease led to the deaths of children, younger than 5 years of age. Although the cases of measles decreased from 1982, it is still endemic.

There are actually two doses of the measles vaccine, which are MCV1 and MCV2. Records and expectations stated that the vaccine coverage would be greater than 95% during the 2000s era. However, in the year 2010, a decreased trend of coverage appeared. By 2014, the trend declined to 89% of coverage only with those receiving the first dose. Unfortunately, the trend will likely continue to decline. In 2016, the most recent outbreak occurred where there were cases that exceed the number of 15,500. Additionally,  the death rates reached 59 individuals who died as a result of measles by the year 2018. The high rates of deaths could be due to many components: the lack of vaccination coverage distributed to areas of the countryside, lack of adequate supplies and the lack of parents’ understanding/ education to vaccinate their children.

Improvements that Leads to Solutions

According to the article, “Romania: Thriving cities, rural poverty, and a trust deficit” by Donato De Rosa and Yeon Soo Kim, Romania has both an urban side and a rural side. Bucharest is an example of Romania’s part that is thriving as a city with a contemporary and profitable system. However, some smaller villages are in the past. As many consider Romania to be an underdeveloped country, it does not have certain advantages like the United States. For instance, Romania faces poverty that has resulted in the lack of a proper health care system and resources for residents in rural areas. Providing foreign aid is a key component to allow these countries to gain stability. Becoming stable will likely help these countries alleviate poverty. This in turn will help economically and strengthen bonds with the other nations.

Member of the European Union

As the World Bank stated in the “Golden Growth: Restoring the Lustre of the European Economic Model,” the European Union (EU) has a goal to converge developing countries for improvement and also for economic benefits. In 2001, the EU integrated Romania as part of its “Golden Growth” model. The EU developed The Golden Growth model for economic convergence, in sections such as trade, finance, enterprise, innovation, labor and government.

There were significant reforms that took place in Romania as a result of the growth model. Reforms included a transition from labor-based and low technology methods to more advanced use of machinery and electronic tools. Between 2014 and 2020, Romania received 17.6 billion euros in investments to improve the nation’s poor infrastructure. The EU’s aid positively impacted Romania’s degree of efficiency and way of life. In turn, this led to Romania’s population decreasing “from 22.8 to 19.6 million since 2000, and is expected to keep falling.” This is a great indication of Romania’s improvement since more children are surviving and thus parents are having fewer children. Still, it is essential to implement better public health programs. Foreign aid to provide supplies to the population and improved education on the importance of immunization for low-income communities can also significantly boost Romania from extreme poverty.

Foreign Aid

Although the diseases in Romania appeared to be dire, the county is not alone in facing these challenges. As a member of the EU since 2007, Romania has received assistance from fellow nations for resources. Romanian authorities’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was moderately swift, but it did not live up to its full potential due to the lack of medical supplies, equipment, and knowledge about the disease.

When the next outbreak struck, the country was better able to respond with the proper procedures and knowledge in place. In regards to measles, Romanian medical practitioners are developing strategies to spread the information on vaccines to poorer communities. These strategies range from advertisements to campaigns carried out on flyers. Romania has certainly come a long way from the original state of poverty. Overall, providing more foreign aid is a key component in forming stability in these countries. The U.S. does currently assist Romania but needs to do more with the assets it has.

– Jenny Liang
Photo: Unsplash

Period Poverty in Romania
Periods can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and expensive. One box of 32 tampons in Bucharest, Romania, costs 15 lei or approximately $3.61. Although this may seem like a small price to pay, the typical female “uses 20 regular tampons per cycle – and therefore 240 per year,” meaning that the average woman spends an estimated $27 per year on menstrual products, a hefty sum for families living in poverty. For this reason, period poverty in Romania is significant.

Period Poverty in Romania

According to period poverty hero and activist Irina Vasilescu, “in Romania, menstruation is a big taboo but at the same time very subtle.” There are many myths surrounding periods and much secrecy regarding what type of products women and girls should use to prevent visible bleeding. Vasilescu recalled the many instances where she educated youth on menstruation, mentioning that parents often asked for the curriculum to remove demonstrations on how to use pads and tampons from the curriculum. Parents wanted their children to know what a period is but not how to utilize the very methods designed to prevent the shame that many people associate with getting a period.

Effects of Period Poverty

Despite many misconceptions, the inability to afford menstrual products is not the only definition of period poverty. Lack of access to period products such as tampons, pads and wet wipes is also a significant part of the problem. Regarding period poverty in Romania, many homeless women or low-income families struggle to afford menstrual products and turn to old rags such as cut-up socks, underwear or t-shirts to prevent blood from seeping through their clothing. When many girls in Romania first get their periods, they simply abstain from attending school for fear of experiencing public ridicule. This is problematic because young girls are forfeiting their education due to a lack of access to feminine hygiene products. After all, it is no secret that generations of societal shame have indirectly taught women and girls to feel disgusted by a natural process of their bodies.

Pe Stop Addresses Period Poverty in Romania

Pe Stop is a Romanian NGO that emerged to provide women and girls with feminine hygiene products as well as accurate information regarding menstruation to reduce common misconceptions surrounding periods, including the idea that utilizing tampons can take away girls’ virginity. Volunteers run Pe Stop, managing “packaging, acquisition, distribution” and “field trips for fundraising campaigns.” The packages that those suffering from period poverty in Romania receive contain masks, menstrual pads, disinfectant gel and sometimes wet wipes, condoms, underwear and dry wipes. Again, since this NGO runs on a volunteer basis, Pe Stop depends heavily on funding and donations to survive and provide for the public.

Pe Stop has managed to sustain itself through its “education first” initiative. Conducting classes to teach women and girls about proper menstrual care leaves them with a lasting knowledge on the subject that they can continue to pass on from generation to generation. Vasilescu mentions that even if funding were to dry up, “no one can take the information on how to take care of yourself properly in any situation. If you receive the information once, it stays with you.”

Concluding Thoughts

Although it can be uncomfortable to discuss, menstruation signifies womanhood. Thankfully, organizations such as Pe Stop recognize the issue and are aiding period poverty in Romania through education. As more people become aware of the myths of menstruation and learn the tools necessary to make the transition to womanhood as seamless as possible, knowledge surrounding periods will become normalized and the negative stigma that many people associate with periods will evaporate.

– Sara Jordan Ruttert
Photo: Flickr

Nadia Comaneci
The dynasty of Romanian gymnastics dates back to the 1976 Montreal Summer Games when Nadia Comaneci earned the first perfect score in gymnastics for her uneven bars routine. Her success kickstarted a legacy of greatness for other Romanian teams in future games.

Fast forward 40 years and the story changed significantly. In 2016, the Romanian team’s fifth-place Olympic qualifying finish terminated their ability to defend their country’s four-decades-long medal streak in the sport. The sole athlete to represent Romania in women’s gymnastics was Catalina Ponor who competed on the floor and balance beam apparatuses but failed to win a medal.

The downfall of Romanian gymnastics is not due to a lack of talent or ability. Rather, it is due to a combination of economic factors that make Olympic glory less lucrative than in years past.

The History of Romania’s Economy

From the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu held a firm grip on the country’s economy. Unlike other Eastern European nations, Ceauşescu felt the best way of controlling the economy was to dictate individual economic transactions and freedom.

In a 1974 speech, he stated that “To give everyone the freedom of spending society’s money on whatever, and however, it might strike one’s mind—this is not possible. We have a planned economy. Nobody has the right to build or produce what is not provided for by the Plan. “The practices of restrictive employment cards and decreased labor movement made individual economic growth difficult to attain.

The Reward of Winning

Each country differs in its rewards for Olympic champions. In 2016, the BBC reported that Romanian athletes earn $79,000 and a monthly income for life if they win gold.

As of 2021, the minimum wage in Romania is just under 500 EUR. Just 10 years ago, it was less than half of the current average.

The prize for winning gold is still relatively high in comparison to the minimum income in Romania. However, the reward may not be worth the cost of lifelong dedication and, at times, abuse.

Abuse in Romanian Gymnastics

The downfall of Romanian gymnastics was inevitable. Just in 2021, Olympic coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi received accusations of abusing Romanian and American gymnasts as early as the 1960s.

In particular, the previously mentioned Nadia Comaneci was one of the athletes who experienced abuse. She was “starved to the point of developing eating disorders, slapped and denied medical treatment,” according to The Washington Post. Romanian author Stejarel Olaru’s book, “Nadia and the Securitate,” further details her abuse.

Olaru further detailed the abuse, saying that “the girls ate toothpaste before going to bed – this is how hungry they were. In some cases, they talked about drinking water from the toilet tank in secret because they were often not allowed to drink water.”

The Karolyis defected to U.S. in 1981. Bela coached all-around gold medalist Mary Lou Retton and the 1992 U.S. national team. Martha coached the gold-medal-winning 1996 U.S. national team.

The Current State of Romania’s Economy

Since 2019, the primary economic focus has been on, according to the World Bank, “strengthening Romania’s institutions, advancing poverty reduction and promoting shared prosperity” through:

  1. Providing equal opportunity for success.
  2. Growth within the private sector.
  3. Prevention of economic shocks.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) allocated almost $2 billion. This money went to various sectors such as education, health and the environment.

The Reimbursable Advisory Services (RAS), a World Bank program, dedicated another $114 million for “improved strategic planning and budgeting, evidence-based policymaking, protection of the vulnerable, disaster risk management, human development and strengthened capacity for monitoring and evaluation.”

The Advisory Services and Analytics (ASA) program, also through the World Bank, funds projects such as the inclusion of the minority ethnic group Roma, development of the business sector and improved infrastructure.

The Connection to Gymnastics

The improved economic situation in Romania allows for the average Romanian citizen to achieve moderate economic comfort. If a Romanian wants to succeed economically, they can now attain it through more traditional means such as working or acquiring an education.

Simply put, there is less of a need to dedicate life to sports like gymnastics to live a comfortable life. The wider range of economic opportunities and the abuse that plagued the lives of 1970s Romanian gymnasts like Comaneci attributed to the downfall of Romanian gymnastics.

– Jessica Umbro
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Romania
Romania, an Eastern European country bordering Ukraine and Hungary, is infamous for its struggles with children’s rights. A quarter of the nation lives below the poverty line, and furthermore, almost one-third of all children in Romania live below the poverty line. The rate of child poverty in Romania is one of the highest in the whole European Union.

Childhood Poverty in Romania

Romania has one of the highest poverty rates in Europe and the issue of child poverty is especially pressing. According to the Independent, child poverty in Romania has worsened in recent years due to three main reasons: “a higher rate of unemployment, a wider gap between rural and urban areas in terms of investment, education and employment opportunities” as well as “a general descending economic trend after the 2008 financial crisis.” Though the number of working children has decreased in recent years, still, 1% of children work, involved in begging, washing car windows or working as brickmakers. Some families sell their children to mafias who recruit them to join gangs or sex traffick them in Romania or in other European countries.

Rural Child Poverty

Today, child poverty is the worst in rural areas of Romania where 45% of the population lives. Most rural Romanians are impoverished subsistence farmers, leading to their children growing up in poverty-stricken conditions. Access to education and proper medical facilities is not as available as it is in cities. Many rural Romanians cannot pay for medical services, which has resulted in a severe lack of doctors in the countryside. In addition, the country decreased its education budget because of dire economic conditions, which led to a shortage of teachers. Furthermore, 400,000 children are not attending school.

Solutions

Several organizations have been working in Romania with the main goal of promoting the rights of children and lobbying the government in order to alleviate childhood poverty. The National Council of Students represents all the country’s students by defending students’ rights and lobbying for a reformed educational system. Another organization, the Children’s Board, comprises children of different ages from all over the country. It strives to create a governance that protects children of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

These organizations work to keep children’s voices heard in different capacities, a pressing task considering the treatment of children during Romania’s communist days. Four of the leading child protection organizations joined to produce the “Child Rights Now! Romania” report. The report details how child rights have improved since the end of communism and the execution of Romanian communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, in 1989. The report also highlights issues to address in order to improve child rights and decrease poverty levels, plus several tangible solutions.

More organizations are addressing child poverty in Romania than ever before. Under Ceaușescu’s regime, Romanian children living in poverty had no rights. Hopefully now, with the help of various advocacy organizations working with the government, improvements will alleviate child poverty in Romania.

– Allie Degner
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Romania
Human trafficking is a highly profitable business and on the rise in Romania. Human trafficking is a complex phenomenon and a few factors might explain why it is so prevalent in Romania including poverty, corruption, social inequality, uneven development, harmful traditional and cultural practices. For example, Romania has a shame-based culture so victims often find it difficult to return home. Additionally, Romania suffers from civil unrest and a lack of political will to end human trafficking in Romania.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report

According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, the Romanian government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” and is on the Tier 2- Watch List for the second consecutive year, along with Ireland. For example, in comparison to the previous report, Romania did not increase its efforts to reduce human trafficking. Moreover, authorities investigated, prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers, and complicity in trafficking persisted without punishment, especially in the case of officials who exploited minors in government-run facilities.

As a response to the report, Adrian Zuckerman, the U.S. ambassador to Romania, stated that the report is correct. Gangs trafficked people knowing that they probably will get away with it. Zuckerman urged the parliament to start working with the government to create the necessary legislation to end human trafficking in Romania.

Following negative reports from both the U.S., the Romanian parliament published a decision on November 24, 2020, which includes the following recommendations to the government:

  • Raising the minimum sentence for traffickers
  • Mitigating the trial period
  • Accelerating the process of criminal investigations
  • Making a sexual act with a minor aged 15 or under a felony
  • Including child disappearances and human trafficking in the country’s National Strategy
  • Modifying the legislation to properly fund nonprofit organizations working to reduce human trafficking in Romania

Modern-Day Slavery in Romania

The Global Slavery Index shows that Romania, with 86,000 trafficking victims, has one of the highest rates of modern-day slavery in Eastern Europe and most victims experience sexual exploitation. However, modern-day slavery is common in the following sectors including agriculture, construction, car-washing and housekeeping. Human trafficking in Romania strongly intertwines with migration and encompasses the following activities including prostitution, begging, theft, forced labor and organ cropping. It is especially worrisome that about 50% of the trafficked persons are minors who undergo sexual exploitation, end up in forced labor or have their organs harvested.

Victims of human trafficking in Romania fall into it through numerous means. Sometimes, traffickers will kidnap them or their parents will sell them. At other times, traffickers will recruit them through the “lover boy method” or “a sham marriage.” Altogether, it is a highly vicious circle because there is rarely a way out, and it can sometimes involve multiple generations from mother to daughter. Additionally, gangs may approach low-income families or the victim and charge extremely high-interest rates on the loan they provided for transportation costs and housing after luring their victims.

Trafficking to the UK

Trafficking victims from Romania frequently undergo exploitation in the United Kingdom. In fact, around three-quarters of women trafficked to the U.K. come from Romania and the majority end up in the sex trade.

Begging is also a highly profitable business, as some children can earn £300 a day. According to police reports, gangs value one child at £100,000 a year. Gangs sell the best performing children to other gangs, and virtually all the money makes its way back to Romania, in the case that the traffickers decide to move back to the country.

According to the BBC documentary “Inside Out,” Romania is posing one of the biggest trafficking threat to the U.K. However, it also determined that the British authorities are doing less than their Romanian counterparts in the fight against human trafficking.

Reaching Out Romania and Other NGOs

The main nonprofit organizations fighting human trafficking in Romania are Reaching Out Romania, Eliberare and Antitrafic. Iana Matei is the founder of the shelter Reaching Out Romania which has assisted around 470 victims, mostly Romanians, since 1998. About 54.5% of rescued victims enrolled in further education, nine cases went to court, four persons gave no statement to the police, two returned to prostitution and eight people are still in the program.

Eliberare is an organization that has fought human trafficking quite successfully since 2013. It has accomplished this through awareness campaigns, prevention training, restoration assistance and lobbying events. Meanwhile, Antitrafic works to eliminate human trafficking in Romania and receives co-funding from the European Commission.

In order to end human trafficking in Romania, it is critical that governments and anti-trafficking actors work holistically and across borders. Given that human trafficking is a transnational crime, an integrated and supranational structure could be the best way to reduce it.

– Maria Rusu
Photo: Flickr

Combat Poverty in RomaniaIn an effort to combat the nation’s longstanding battle with poverty, the Romanian Government passed 47 measures in 2015/16 to combat poverty in Romania through to 2020.

Poverty in Romania

At the time these measures passed into law, 40.2% of Romanian people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Furthermore, absolute poverty in Romania increased from 23.4% in 2008 to 27.7% in 2012. Low educational attainment, intergenerational transmission of poverty and lack of inter-regional mobility all contribute to the integral causes of poverty in Romania.

However, the Romanian government set a substantial and significant new precedent on how the nation combats poverty by adopting The National Strategy and Strategic Action Plan on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction for 2015-2020. These measures hope to reduce the many causes of poverty in Romania.

Key Measures:

  • Increasing employment rate through labor market activation programs
  • Increasing financial support for low-income individuals
  • Improving social inclusion of marginalized communities
  • Improving the functionality of social services
  • Reducing school drop-out rates
  • Scaling-up of national health programs
  • Integrating social assistance benefits with social services, employment services and other public services.

These measures were an encouraging shift in political focus that revolved around social benefits and a more community-based and integrated approach that generated widespread support. The World Bank supports these measures, commenting that these measures will strongly contribute to narrowing poverty gaps in the country.

Impact of Poverty Reduction Strategy

Since the adoption of these measures, monthly income per person increased by 10% between 2016 and 2017 and by 16% between 2017 and 2018, in part due to the increases in public-sector wages and improved minimum wages and tax cuts. As a result, poverty rates fell from 28.4% in 2014 to 15.8% in 2017.

Currently, the employment rate at 68.8% is approaching the EU 2020 target and is just below the EU average of 72.2%. Additionally, the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the EU at 4.9%.

Implementation Delays Cause Concern

Although clear steps toward improving Romania’s struggle with poverty have emerged, these measures have received criticism as expectations have determined that many measures could have delayed or minimal results. These concerns were further exacerbated in 2017 when a change in government occurred. The political change delayed implementation and altered the original plan, putting full implementation in jeopardy.

In addition, more legislation is necessary to address the growing condition of the Roma minority group residing in Romania. A whole 78% of Roma are at risk of poverty compared to 35% for non-Roma citizens. Furthermore, 84% of Roma households do not have access to a water source, sewage or electricity. To successfully combat poverty in Romania, the Roma need to be prioritized.

Poverty Reduction Progress

While no single piece of legislation will be the end all be all to combat poverty in Romania, the anti-poverty measures passed in 2015/2016 have shown that a top-down, legislation-focused approach to fighting poverty can lead to progress, poverty reduction and improved social inclusion.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

reaching out romaniaIn Romanian, ‘Lavandelina’ means comfort or soothing. The definition is quite fitting for one small NGO that has utilized selling lavender-based essential oils to raise funds for its mission to fight sex trafficking. Since it opened in 1999, Reaching Out Romania has provided psychological, medical and legal assistance to more than 470 victims of sex trafficking. 

Reaching Out Romania

The organization was founded by Iana Matei, a trained psychologist who was approached by authorities and asked to intervene when three young girls were rescued from a trafficking situation. The girls told Matei that they had been sold by a gypsy and then sent out on the streets. Matei was shocked to learn that there were no organizations in Romania to fight the illicit sex trafficking industry and decided to start her own.

Sex Trafficking Rings

According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the majority of human trafficking victims detected in Europe have come from the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. Romania is one of the countries with the highest levels of sex trafficking reported. Many of the women pulled into the industry come from poor households and have limited options to earn an income.

Most of the girls who end up staying with Matei have returned from Italy or Spain, which are the two main destinations for young Romanians who fall victim to prostitution rings.

Lavender Farming for Essential Oils

As more young women sought refuge at Reaching Out Romania, Matei had to think of a way to fund more housing and secure medical coverage for the girls. When a 15-acre parcel of land was donated to the organization, Matei was initially unsure what to make of it. She met with Creative Nova, a design thinking agency, that helped Reaching Out Romania create a business plan. Its idea was simple: plant lavender and make essential oils to sell.

Over the last few years, the market for essential oils has been on the rise. Reports indicate that the U.S. essential oil market will expand at an annual growth rate of 9% through 2024. Recent preferences for alternative medicine and reports on the therapeutic benefits of essential oils have triggered the growing demand. The timing was right for Reaching Out Romania as few farmers were planting lavender yet the demand for essential oils was on the increase.

In addition to raising funds, the girls at Reaching Out Romania are encouraged to secure paid work in order to secure their independent futures. Roughly 30% of the victims come from rural areas so the organization tries to assist them in searching for a job in the agricultural field. The lavender fields were a perfect starting place. Over the summer, many of the girls staying at Reaching Out Romania visit the lavender farm to learn from experts and receive training in farming.

Addressing Human Trafficking in Romania

Matei and her organization, Reaching Out Romania, have received multiple recognition awards. The lavender farm proves mutually beneficial as a source of employment for the girls and a source of funding for the organization.

– Miska Salemann
Photo: Unsplash