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

facts about girls' education in RomaniaRomania is a country settled in east-central Europe bordering the Black Sea. The country has a rigid education program that falls short in some areas of girls’ education, particularly for Roma girls who come from a minority making up about 10 percent of Romania’s population. While improvements are being made to the overall education of the country, some pupils are more neglected than others. These six facts about girls’ education in Romania shed some light on the achievements and shortfalls of the Romanian education system and what is being done to further improve girls’ education.

6 Facts About Girls’ Education in Romania

  1. There are more girls in pre-primary schools than boys. As of 2016, 75.26 percent of Romanian girls were enrolled in pre-primary school—the equivalent of kindergarten—while only 74.52 percent of boys were enrolled.
  2. Female literacy rates are on the rise. In 1992, 94.98 percent of the Romanian female population older than 15 were literate. As of 2018, that percentage stood at 98.6.
  3. Half of the women in rural Romania don’t finish secondary school. Half of the female population living in rural areas of Romania don’t manage to finish secondary school according to Tatiana Proscuryakova, World Bank’s Country Manager for Romania and Hungary.
  4. Roma women often don’t have the same opportunities as other women in Romania. One of the largest minority groups in Romania is the Roma people. Roma girls are disproportionately impacted by poverty conditions and continue to face societal discrimination. On average, Roma girls leave school at age 10 so that they can contribute to the household in some way.
  5. Female unemployment rates are increasing. As of 2019, only 45.17 percent of Romanian women are part of the workforce. This number dropped from 62.31 percent in 1992 and is likely a direct result of the struggle among many women to complete a proper education. Without an education, many women find themselves without the skills necessary to make themselves a valuable member of the workforce.
  6. Save the Children is working to fix the gap in Roma girls’ education. The American nonprofit, known for its work in helping children around the world, launched a preparedness program in the summer of 2016 for children in Romania. The goal of this program is to help Roma children be better equipped for pre-primary school, both academically and socially.

Romania has an impressive literacy rate among both men and women but has seen a dramatic drop in the number of women in the workforce. Most Romanian women are able to receive an education, but Roma girls seem to be subject to a prejudiced struggle. While the number of girls in the workforce is declining, education is increasing and the hope of overall improvement of girls’ education and the consequent life opportunities is bright.

Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr


Poverty Among Romanians in Albania
Albania, a country located east of the heel of Italy and bordering a chunk of the Adriatic Sea, receives millions of Euros each year. However, Albania invests next to nothing, if even that, in the ghettos where a majority of the Romani population live. The result is a continuous cycle of poverty among the Romani in Albania.

Estimates determine that Romani people migrated from Northern India to Eastern Europe in the 1400s. Upon arriving, Eastern Europeans discriminated against the Romani people due to their nomadic lifestyles. Romani people lived in tribes and worked as craftsmen. Being further developed when it came to technology, the Eastern Europeans used this to justify why they treated the Romani as “less than” or “untouchables.” In Albania, this treatment is still present today.

A Large Population

Although no one seems to have accurate data of how many Romani people live in Albania, the majority of sources seem to estimate somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000. Of this amount, 80 percent of the Romani in Albania have no job and live in extreme poverty. While this is a vast percentile, the Albanian government is still not fully addressing the issue of poverty among the Romani in Albania. For instance, the country’s social services such as welfare and economic aid make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for the Romani people to access them. Because most Romani people in Albania do not register at their local municipality, the government uses this to justify them as ineligible for the social services. However, the reason Romani in Albania do not register at their local municipality is due to the discrimination they face. This causes them to live on unclaimed land, move frequently and/or bear children at home rather than in a hospital.

Issues of Education

In Albania, 52 percent of the Romani population has no education. Of the other 48 percent who do attend school, 14 percent complete elementary school, three percent complete secondary school and four percent graduate from a college or university. Because of the lack of education, many Romani are not eligible to access employment which further contributes to their poverty.

Romani children tend to not attend school for the following reasons:

  1. They have to work to help their family survive because the average monthly income of Romani households is 68 Euros. The Romani people make less than half the monthly income of non-Romani households living in the same neighborhoods.
  2. Some schools refuse to register Romani children because they do not have birth certificates. This is despite the fact that it is the law in Albania to accept all Romani students into public schools whether they have a birth certificate or not.
  3. Romani parents choose to keep their kids home from school due to their claim that the teachers discriminate against their children because of their ethnicity.

Temporary Work

Because many Romani people in Albania are unable to find a stable source of income, they often resort to small, temporary jobs in different trades such as construction and agriculture, and most of these are low pay. While the government does provide economic aid to the unemployed, very few Romani benefit from this aid, and if they do, they do not receive it for as long as they need it. On top of all of this, Romani people are continuously denied their rights to adequate housing and lack of access to clean drinking water, and often experience ill-treatment from local police for no reason other than being of Romani descent.


In 1996, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) emerged out of recognition of the discrimination Romani people face in multiple countries including Albania. It uses two methods to establish equal rights and opportunities for all Romani people:

  1. Strategic Litigation: In order to eliminate the discrimination against Romani people that prevents them from moving out of poverty, the ERRC fights whoever is implementing these discriminatory acts in court. It is able to do so in both domestic and international courts.
  2. Advocacy and Research: The ERRC believes that one of the best things anyone can do in order to help prevent poverty among Romanians in Albania as well as in other countries is to get the word out. One requires awareness and education of the issue in order for change to be possible.

An ERRC Victory

The ERRC completed its latest project in Albania on December 12, 2018. Due to discrimination, Romani citizens of Fushe Kruje, a city in Albania that has been home to a Romanian community since 1990, were suffering from lack of clean drinking water. While numerous Romani organizations took action to prevent this for the past 20 years, next to nothing has changed. The ERRC stepped in and went to court to fight the local municipality in Fushe Kruje for refusing to address the community’s limited access to clean water. The ERRC won the case, and the court declared that the local municipality would have to fix this issue within 30 days or receive a fine.

The ERRC envisions a world in which Romani people and non-Romani people in Albania are able to work together to challenge the racism that exists. By doing so, poverty among the Romani in Albania will end, thus, allowing them to receive access to proper education, steady employment, and ultimately, better healthier lives.

Emily Turner
Photo: Flickr



10 Facts about Life Expectancy in Romania
Among European Union members, Romania ranks as one of the lowest in terms of life expectancy. Life expectancy can be a complicated issue. It is impacted by many other factors, such as poverty, housing and health care. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Romania will reveal which issues have shaped the current problems in Romania, as well as what can be done to solve them.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Romania

  1. Life expectancy for young people in Romania is the lowest in the European Union. In countries such as Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland and the U.K., the life expectancy of a young person today is around 85 years. According to the CIA, Romania has a life expectancy of just 75.6 years, giving Romania one of the lowest overall life expectancies in the European Union.
  2. Life expectancy in Romania has had its ups and downs since 1990. Prior to the 1990s, very little research was done on life expectancy in Romania. In the period from 1990-1996, Romania actually experienced a decline in life expectancy of 1.71 years for men and 0.54 years for women. Romania’s life expectancy recovered when this trend reversed in the period from 1996-1998, with an increase in life expectancy of 1.12 years for men and 0.89 years for women. Life expectancy in Romania has been gradually trending upwards since.
  3. Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. As of 2018, Romania is among the 10 poorest countries in Europe. The EU has an average GDP per capita of more than $38,000. Meanwhile, Romania’s per capita GDP is only $9,520. Poverty, for obvious reasons, is often inversely correlated with life expectancy.
  4. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Romania. By 2004, the leading cause of death in Romania was cardiovascular diseases which were responsible for 62 percent of all deaths. Romania’s past increases in life expectancy are due partially to a reduction in the rates of heart disease in the late 1990s. This reduction is likely due to a change in diet and reduced obesity rates.
  5. Living conditions in Romania have been steadily improving since the fall of communism. In the past 20 years, the average household income in Romania has increased by more than $2,500, and the unemployment rate has been cut in half. The number of Romanian citizens reported to be living in bad health is now lower than the average for Europe. By 2017, Romanian households had improved access to modern tools and appliances which play a role in increasing living standards. By 2017, 33.7 percent of households owned a personal car, and more than half own computers. Almost every household had a cooking stove, and 56 percent owned a modern refrigerator.
  6. Rural areas have substandard living conditions. In Romania, life expectancy varies significantly between different regions. As is often the case, there is a rural-urban divide. Life expectancies are higher in cities than in the countryside. Urban areas often have access to higher quality medical care, whereas rural regions often have sub-par medicine. Rural areas also have a lower standard of workplace safety. A survey published in 2009 reveals that 64 percent of all workplace accidents take place in rural zones of the country.
  7. Urban regions have higher life expectancies. Bucharest has the highest life expectancy in Romania. The average life expectancy in Romania’s capital is 77.8 years, 2.4 years above the national average. The counties with the next three highest life expectancies are Valcea (77.5 years), Cluj (76.7 years) and Brasov (76.6 years). Each of these counties represents populations that live in urban metropolitan areas.
  8. The Romanian health care system is ranked the worst in Europe. For two consecutive years, Romania’s health care system has been rated the lowest in the European Union in the European Health Consumer Index (EHCI) at 34th. Countries are ranked by quality of care, accessibility and wait times. The study also concluded that Romania’s system was discriminatory towards minority groups such as the Roma, who experience poorer health outcomes on average.
  9. Life expectancy is much worse for minority groups. One of Romania’s largest minority groups is the Romani, or Roma, who represent 3.08 percent of Romania’s population. The Romani people face deep-seated oppression and discrimination which contributes to them being disproportionately impoverished. Among Romani women, maternal mortality rates are 15 times greater than among the rest of the population. An estimated 30 percent of the Romani live in slum-like conditions. The overall life expectancy for the Roma is estimated to be anywhere from five years to 20 years shorter than that of the general population. If life expectancies in Romania are to be improved, then discrimination must cease. The government must make a serious effort to lift disadvantaged minority groups out of dilapidated living conditions.
  10. NGOs have and will continue to play a crucial role in improving life expectancy in Romania. Nonprofits have been very important in improving the lives of Romanians. Groups like CARE and Hearts Across Romania have focused on aiding children, many of whom are abandoned due to poverty. Love Light Romania seeks to combat poverty by promoting access to educational opportunities. Habitat for Humanity has sought to build housing in Romania, to supplement the nation’s insufficient public housing program.

From these 10 facts about life expectancy in Romania, it can be determined that the situation is a mixed bag for Romania. On one hand, life expectancy has shown significant improvement since the fall of communism. On the other, it is clear that Romania still has quite a few social issues that must be corrected if it is to rise to the level of the rest of Europe. Issues such as insufficient health care and discrimination against Roma people still persist, however through government initiatives and continual efforts by nonprofits, these issues can be solved.

– Karl Haider
Photo: Unsplash

Diseases in Romania
Romania is a Balkan country bordering the Black Sea. Romania was under communist rule from World War II until 1989. The healthcare system in Romania faces corruption and a lack of medical professionals. Three of the most common diseases in Romania are measles, HIV/AIDS and cirrhosis.

  1. MeaslesThere is a current outbreak of measles in Romania. So far the virus has upward of 3,400 new cases. Symptoms of measles are a high fever, cough, runny nose and a red rash. The fever will break and the rash subsides after a few days. Measles is highly contagious; if one person has it, 90% of people who are close to that initial person but not immune will become infected. The virus is spread through coughing and sneezing. The virus spread through Romania because there is a suboptimal vaccination rate. Doctors hope that a community will have a vaccination rate of 95% to create immunity. Unfortunately, the measles vaccination rate in Romania has decreased in recent years to 86% in 2015. The Romanian government is working swiftly to decrease this risk. The government lowered the vaccination age from 12 months to nine months and distributed leaflets in doctor’s offices about the importance of vaccination and early symptoms. In addition, the government is attempting to pass a law mandating the vaccination of children before they enter school.
  2. HIV/AIDSMany people in Romania are infected with HIV/AIDS. Since 1985, 21,263 Romanians have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Heterosexual unprotected sex was the main method of HIV transmission in new cases in 2015 (59% of new cases). The number of new cases of HIV/AIDS decreased slightly in 2015 compared to previous years. Romania has one of the highest rates of AIDS among children in Europe; around 10,000 children have been diagnosed in Romania since 1985. During the last years of the communist era in Romania, there were unsafe blood transfusion and inoculation procedures for young children. It is believed that this led to the infection of many children in Romania.

    The Romanian government has made many strides in policy to decrease the prevalence of AIDS in the country. The National Strategy for Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction hopes to decrease the incidence of the disease among vulnerable groups. In addition, the government has directed funding for increased HIV testing among the general population and pregnant women.

  3. CirrhosisCirrhosis is another one of the most common diseases in Romania and was the number three cause of premature death in 2010. In 2013, 40.8 per 100,000 people died from cirrhosis in Romania. Most deadly cases of cirrhosis in Romania are due to Hepatitis C and alcohol use. Cirrhosis is the buildup of scar tissue on the liver that occurs when the liver is damaged. Cirrhosis can be treated by treating the underlying cause of the disease; one could reduce alcohol intake or take medications to control damage to the liver caused by hepatitis. To combat the prevalence of cirrhosis, Romania is trying to remove its causes by creating awareness and prevention for hepatitis C. In 2013 two new governmental organizations were formed in Romania to reduce harms associated with drug use. The government now funds needle exchange programs and HIV and hepatitis C testing.

For each of these diseases in Romania the government seems to acknowledge the threat they place on society and is taking swift action to reduce their impact. Most of the government programs are education-based, but some legislative action has been passed or is in the process of passing. Romania should continue to alert people to the risk factors of common diseases and provide instruments to slow their spread.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Romania
Upon traveling to Romania, one will find that there are no significant health risks. At least, no more than “any other European country,” according to the Lonely Planet‘s current health guide. In fact, the only water which travelers need to be wary of is collected water found in the country’s many mountainous areas, which make up 31% of Romania’s landscape.

However, despite being surrounded by water, water quality in Romania is still fairly poor, and Romania ranks 13th in Europe in terms of water resources. Many native Romanians living in rural areas still struggle with wastewater management, owing in large part to pollution from sudden economic development between the 1960s and 1980s.

The majority of Romania is in the Danube basin, with over a third of the Danube river’s length flowing through the country. As such, Romania relies heavily on water from the Danube, water that has had some inconsistent quality over the years.

Prior to the 1950s, water quality in Romania was fairly steady, with the Danube river providing a good source of clean, easily-accessible water. Beginning in the 1960s, however, large-scale economic and industrial growth led to widespread water pollution. The main form of pollution was agrochemical fertilizers, which released copious amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the water. This continued until roughly 1989 when new regulations to correct this problem were introduced, and development began to slow. Since then, water quality in Romania has increased significantly. However, it remains inferior to the quality present before this development.

In many areas of the country, groundwater still contains many nitrates, leaving 35% of the population without consistent access to public clean water and 47% without access to wastewater collection and treatment. Instead, many people in Romania simply opt to drink bottled water, as it’s cheap and available nearly everywhere in the country.

In Romania, it seems that to live in an urban, wealthier area means that the threat of unsafe water is relatively nonexistent. Meanwhile,  in poorer, rural areas, it is still a major concern. However, Romania does seem to be making some strides toward making water safe for all its citizens.

On March 22, 2008, the date which the United Nations has dubbed “World Water Day,” the Romanian government came together to organize conferences and discussion sessions and launched a campaign of social responsibility aimed at making clean water, which the UN names as a “fundamental human right,” available for all Romanians.

Audrey Palzkill

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Romania
Severe poverty and complications within economic systems occur for a variety of different reasons. The contributing factors behind poverty in the poorest of countries are usually obvious. They include poor water quality, a lack of resources, shared food and housing and other noticeable struggles. However, the causes of poverty in Romania go a little deeper than these norms.

Romania entered the European Union in 2007. Despite its growing economy, it ranks as Europe’s most poverty-stricken nation.

Even though the structures and education systems are better established in Romania than in many other poor countries, Romania’s social systems and flawed pay benefits cause great financial harm to its citizens.

When asked about the causes of poverty, Romanians report that several of Romania’s social programs give equally to those who are rich and to those who are poor, neglecting to give direct attention to those who are struggling financially. This fact, combined with flaws in Romania’s social systems that allow people to misuse the aid, results in the failure of assistance to reach some of the families that need it the most.

On paper, Romania’s economy seems to flourish, yet poverty continues to worsen.

Racism is the root of several causes of poverty in Romania. Those who are Romani in Romania are more likely to struggle with poverty due to racism and oppression.

Large Roma families are hardly able to afford food and basic necessities. They often live in dangerous and unstable areas such as caves and are not considered to be Romanian citizens by the public.

A 2013 survey found that around 27% of men of Roma descent reported being discriminated against due to their race when looking for jobs. This, of course, does not include those who are ashamed of unemployment or are too afraid to acknowledge their own discrimination.

Between flaws in Romania’s government and some very problematic racial issues, Romania experiences an array of poverty sources. provides opportunities to help people in Romania by providing sources for advocacy and donations. This is a way that anyone can help alleviate financial distress and fight the causes of poverty in Romania.

Noel Mcdavid

Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in Romania
Ringing in at a 25.4% poverty rate, Romania is one of the six countries off the coast of the Black Sea in southeast Europe that has seen its fair share of poverty and struggle in the last century. Taking part in both World Wars and being under Soviet occupation has severely weakened the economy as well as the morale of natives, and resulted in escalating poverty in Romania.

After reaching a point of good economic growth and being the second-largest producer of oil in Europe after World War I, Romania was pulled into the crossfires of World War II by an ultimatum from the USSR. This led to Soviet occupation and, ultimately, the decline of Romania. Not only did the Soviets exploit Romanian natural resources, but they also implemented a mass genocide targeting the Jews and Roma communities.

Once the communist influence had pulled out, however, Romania was left in shambles. The post-USSR era called for the reorganization of farmland, which displaced many of the farmers and added to the problem of poverty in Romania. Since Romania cultivated a predominantly agriculture-based economy, this disturbed the lives of many and resulted in a shift to subsistence farming. Farmers were bound to low levels of production and marginal incomes due to a lack of resources.

Furthermore, because 44% of Romanians live in rural areas, according to the Rural Poverty Portal, almost half of the population is confined to small-scale farming. In particular, people that reside in the remote mountain areas face the harshest conditions due to minimal access to infrastructure.


Poverty in Romania


For the past couple of decades, these farmers have been stuck in the vicious cycle of working for the bare necessities of living for generations. In 2015, a Eurostat news release projected that 46.8% of children were at risk of poverty. This low level of living and lack of opportunity has propelled Romania into a primarily emigration-based nation.

Ethnic minorities and victims of the post-communist decline in jobs looked for hope outside of Romania, which caused the natives to look for opportunities outside the nation as well. According to Focus Migration, around two million Romanians moved in order to better their lives. This included professionals that are vital to the survival of a nation, such as doctors.

Despite the low unemployment rates and misleading statistics often presented by the Romanian elite, there is still much work to accomplish regarding human rights, government, economy, and poverty in Romania for it to be a safer and more stable country for its residents.

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Flickr

Human rights in Romania made headlines last January after Romanians took to the streets in the largest protests since the 1989 revolution. The peaceful demonstrations began in response to a government attempt to eliminate protections against corruption. The protesters were ultimately successful in halting the legislation, a signal to many that democracy is alive and well in the eastern European country.

This notion was reinforced by the June 13 announcement that Romania’s former president Ion Iliescu will go to court to face charges of crimes against humanity. The charges have been brought against him in connection with a violent crackdown on peaceful protests in Bucharest in 1990, just months after the uprisings that ousted dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. The charges allege that Iliescu, who ordered tens of thousands of security officers to stifle the peaceful protests, is responsible for four deaths, 1,380 injuries and 1,250 arrests.

The contrast between the response to the freedom of expression in these two instances, separated by less than 30 years, demonstrates profound growth in human rights in Romania. Though the success of the demonstrations in early 2017 has been praised worldwide, there are still significant human rights abuses occurring daily.

Systemic Roma Discrimination

Perhaps the most pervasive of these abuses is the systemic discrimination faced by Roma in all facets of life. According to the U.S. State Department, there are between 1.8 million and 2.5 million Roma in the country, accounting for approximately 10% of the population. Romania’s most recent official census, conducted in 2011, counted 621,573 Roma, though this number is severely skewed by widespread issues with identification documents.

NGOs and the media report that societal discrimination against Roma has persisted and that Roma are routinely denied public services. Given this discrimination, many Roma are fearful of registering for identity documents as they would be required to declare their ethnicity. However, without these documents, they are unable to participate in elections, receive social benefits or fully participate in the labor market.

The United Nations and the European Union have urged Romania to implement the Roma Inclusion Strategy, which pushes states to uphold their commitments to European human rights laws and integrate Roma into society.

Prison and Law Enforcement Failures

In 2016, the Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies reported 43 cases of police brutality against Romas. Racism was not investigated as a motive in any of these instances.

While this is yet another example of Roma discrimination, it is also a symptom of the larger dysfunction of the Romanian justice system. Constitutional protections for human rights in Romania prohibit torture, unlawful detention and violence against prisoners and detainees, yet NGOs and media still report that security forces routinely disregard these laws.

This problem is exacerbated by the prison system’s overcrowding problem. As of July 2016, Romania’s prisons held 28,278 persons. Based on the space limits imposed by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Romania’s prison system only has the capacity to hold 18,826.

Few immediate measures are being taken to resolve this issue, but the government introduced a plan in April 2016 to improve prison conditions by 2023 after the EHRC ruling in Rezmiveș and Others v. Romania, which highlighted a “structural deficiency” in Romanian prisons.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence has become a dominant topic in the discussion of human rights in Romania, as the international community continues to push for Romania to uphold the necessary protections for its citizens. Advocates are working to introduce new legislation and to urge the government to abide by the laws and agreements already in place, including the Istanbul Convention, which entered into force in September 2016. Data supplied by the General Police Inspectorate counted nearly 9,000 cases of domestic violence in just the first six months of 2016. National NGOs reported that the actual number was much higher, and the European Court of Human Rights reports that more than half of Romanians believe that domestic violence is justified.

Existing laws provide few protections for survivors of domestic abuse. Many of those afforded are only temporary. Restraining orders may be issued for a maximum of six months. Even more concerning is the lack of protection for survivors who were in relationships but did not cohabit with their alleged abuser. Victims in this category cannot obtain a restraining order, stay in shelters or utilize the other state services. There has been little high-level coordination to reform these provisions.

Despite shortcomings in these areas, it is clear that human rights in Romania are progressing. Discrimination against Roma continues to be an egregious disregard for human rights and a senseless “waste of human capital and loss of productivity,” impeding Romania’s growth as a society. Romania has an obligation to implement the Roma Integration Strategy, which has set inclusion targets for 2020.

Similarly, a justice system that allows for the overcrowding of prisons and abuse by security officers to continue is not just, nor is it aligned with EU standards. Should the state refuse to reform these aspects of its justice system, it will face punishment in the form of restrictions on its EU membership.

Romania will face similar penalties if it does not bring its domestic violence laws in line with international norms. While there is not yet a concrete plan for the future of domestic violence protections, there is a plan in place to remedy Romania’s prison conditions by 2030. This plan, Romania’s EU membership and recent protests all point to continued progress for human rights in Romania.

Alena Zafonte

Photo: Flickr