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The cruel legacy of the “child gulags”

Romano Cagnoni/Getty Images

Romania’s “child gulags” were discovered by the outside world in 1990, a year after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, says Melissa Fay Greene in The Atlantic. Believing that a bigger population would bolster Romania’s economy, he had outlawed contraception and abortion. The upshot was tens of thousands of “devastatingly neglected” babies, many with disabilities, abandoned to state care by destitute parents. They were beaten with brooms, tranquillised during tantrums and otherwise ignored.

“Can a person unloved in childhood learn to love?” Neural pathways thrive in the brain of a baby showered with loving attention. “But in the brain of a neglected baby – a baby lying alone and unwanted every week, every year – fewer connections get built.” The infant’s smiles aren’t answered. Soon it falls silent.

Take Izidor, a bright but “institutionalised” 11-year-old Romanian boy who was brought to California by his adoptive parents, Danny and Marlys Ruckel, in 1991. He never laughed. He didn’t like being touched. “By about 14, he was angry about everything.” After he threatened to kill the family during a row, they locked him out of their lives. But this story, at least, had a happy ending. Two years after he was kicked out, the Ruckel family were involved in a non-fatal car crash. When Izidor heard, he ran to their home. “I love you,” he told them. From that day on he cared.

Read the full article here.