Tens of thousands of Romanian children are growing up parentless because their mothers and fathers are working abroad, according to new figures which raise questions about the extent and impact of large-scale migration on the eve of new EU rules governing Bulgarians and Romanians.
According to the Romanian ministry of labor, family and social protection, there are now more than 80,000 families in Romania in which both parents are working abroad while their children stay at home, with 35,000 more families in which one parent is overseas.
Those are just the official numbers; few parents inform the authorities about their intention to go abroad and many believe the real number could be significantly higher.
“This is a big issue for Romania,” said Stefan Darabus, Romania director for the international NGO Hopes and Homes for Children, which runs programs in the rural north of Romania to help children left behind by their parents.
“Those who grow up without the love or security of their parents are going to be negatively affected later in life,” Darabus added.
In the Bucharest neighborhood of Ferentari, one of the poorest areas of the capital, about two dozen young children sit in a classroom during lunch, coloring in pictures of fruit bowls and playing, while a teacher looks on.
The children vary in age from five to 10 years old, but they all have something in common: They all have one or both parents overseas.
Cristina, one of the children, says her mother is in Spain looking for work. She has been gone one month this time already, but in the past she has been away much longer, she says. Her father is no longer in the picture.
“Mum doesn’t want to stay away long. She just went there to make money for me and my sister,” said Cristina, a nine-year-old who lives with her grandmother when her mother is away.
“These children are in a very vulnerable situation, being deprived of their parents’ affection, care and support,” said Andreea Biji, a psychologist who works for Save the Children, which runs the classroom-based program in Ferentari, as well as programs in 15 counties across the country.
Some Romanian parents have taken their children overseas with them, but for many this is not an option.
“In France my husband earns 600 euro to 700 euro a month, which is a lot over here, but not much over there,” said Vasile Luminita, a 28-year-old mother of five whose husband has been working on a construction site in France for the past 18 months.
Luminita says the separation is hardest on her older children.
“They understand the situation, but it is hard for them always to see their father leaving,” she said, cradling her two-month-old son, who has yet to see his father.
In recent years, the Romanian government has tried to push through changes to better manage the situation of children left behind by their parents.
“Things have become better — there are now daycare centers where kids can be looked after and other support services,” said Nicolae Gorunescu, the executive manager for the government child protection agency in Bucharest’s District 6.
He said the government had recently introduced a law whereby parents not only had to register before going overseas to work, but a judge had to approve of the chosen guardians.
“The problem is a lot still don’t tell the authorities that they are leaving,” he added.