Child beggars still haunt streets of Romania

Children begging for money have long been a common sight in Romanian cities. Although their numbers have dropped in recent years, there are still hundreds of street children in Bucharest alone.

The problem dates back decades ago. In 1966, in an attempt to increase the country’s population, communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu banned contraception and abortion in Romania. The resultant baby-boom coupled with a weak economy, however, meant many families were simply unable to feed their own children, and kids soon started finding themselves abandoned and alone on the streets.

The situation has changed since those tough times. Due to the efforts of various charities, the number of children living on the streets is falling in Romania, but it still remains a serious problem for the country.

Many kids like 14-year-old Sandu would be happy to lead a different life, but he has nowhere else to go and has no illusions about his future. For now it is a foul-smelling sewer that he can call home.

“I’ve been living here for eight years already. My father is dead, my mom lives with another family. I live here – I wash cars, or just go begging and get some 10 euros a day,” says the child.

Sandu puts on a brave smile, but he’s far from happy with his life in the slums.

“My sister has recently died here; she had an infection or something. Children are born and die here. We all will find our death on the streets too. Who will care?”

Right after the fall of communism in Romania, Ian Tilling opened an orphanage for street children. “Casa Ioana”, which means “Johanna’s House”, is one place where abandoned kids and entire families left without a roof over their heads can find refuge for more than just a night.

Ian says that today there are just a few hundred street children in Bucharest, which is the European average, but according to him, this progress isn’t really due to the efforts of the government.

“The causes and effects of homelessness are pretty well general throughout the whole world. But in this part of Europe it’s much more acute. Because there are no social services, there’s no safety net as such which can adequately sustain these people in accommodation on allowances. The procedures are very bureaucratic and very difficult to go through,” says the founder of the orphanage.

However, that is just part of the problem. Too many kids are still roaming the streets as there is no one to look after them at home, or they’ve even been forced out by their families to see if they can make some money. For many of these youngsters, being on the streets is something of a profession, and their number is on the rise.

Leonard Andreescu, who has been working with street children for years, says the so-called “daylight kids”, are the next generation of street children – and they are very hard to deal with.

“Families know what they are doing is illegal, they teach their children to tell lies, tell various stories, and children are very reluctant to talk to us,” says the coordinator of the “Save the children” movement.

A father of two himself, he believes the problem of street kids lies with the adults.

“There is a lot of profit in recovering all those people, integrating them, giving them back to society. But there are very few politicians or decision makers who understand that.”

Leonard says that until changes come to people’s minds, street children, along with Dracula and Ceausescu, will remain an enduring image of Romania.