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Oana Sandu - Who takes care of these children? | People of Justice 2022 Bucharest

This is one of the responses I successfully received in the last 15 years, in which I've been requesting information from the authorities, based on the Law 544/2001. This is one of the laws I love, because it helps me do my job.

When Mona Muscă launched this law, I'd barely started high school. My sister who was working in Bucharest in an organisation that defended democracy told me that it would be the coolest law ever and that it would help all of us, because we could finally obtain information about what is going on in public institutions. The truth is that we, especially, as journalists, can obtain more information than the journalists working before the year 2001. But, in the meantime, the authorities have also learnt how to give you an answer, without giving an answer. I'm talking about institutions where you can't even ask a question on the phone. Only written answers and We'll get back in the next 30 days. That's what they tell you on the phone. And what you get, often, after exactly 30 days, is a lot of gobbledygook and hassle. Here, the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection explains to me through a lot of words that they won't give me the statistics I'm asking for, because, even though they have a database, it's not really a searchable database. It's most likely in PDF format. If you're not satisfied with the answer or you want to ask a follow-up question, you can wait another 30 days. Sometimes, in addition to that information, I also ask for an interview. You never know what to expect when you send the same e-mail to 47 institutions. And I believe in the journalist's luck. Except in the summer...

In the last years, I requested information based on the Law 544/2001, from police stations and police inspectorates, courthouses, courts, from the Special Telecommunications Services, from the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection. I am researching domestic abuse: the evidence used in a case, national statistics, finding out if a case was closed or if the police officers are under investigation, because they didn't arrest an abuser that repeatedly breached a protective order.

I received the answers above, because, in the last few months, I tried to find out what we, as a society, know about children orphaned by domestic abuse. I'm a journalist, specialized in domestic abuse and my daily work also means monitoring the statistics about domestic crimes. So, each time one of them happens, I read the news and I save them. I find some information about the children in them. Sometimes, they're the only witnesses of the crime. Other times, they appear as secondary characters of a news story that starts like this: The woman who was murdered was a mother of two. For too long, we haven't talked about the secondary characters, also victims of domestic abuse, orphans and the families that care for them.

These people aren't ghosts, they are part of the reality of a country, where it is so easy to become a victim, while the state promises to protect you. Vladi, a 7-year-old boy from a town in Ilfov, was witness, almost three years ago, along with his younger sister, to the murder of his mother by his father. They hid under the drying rack and, from there, they heard the father stab their mother tens of times with a knife. When the man left, the children got up from under the rack and they stroked their mother's bloody face. The children's father was under a protective order when he killed his wife and he'd breached it several times, without being arrested by the police. Vladi started preparatory class this year, he loves to collect Harry Potter figurines and he likes to eat cereal for breakfast. When they're grocery shopping, he's grandma's little helper. A 67-year-old woman is now raising two small children and trying to get survivor's pensions for them, going from one institution to the next, in order to prepare the files. Vladi asks his grandmother why the monster murdered his mother and she answers as best she can: You're going to find out when you'll grow up.

For a child, a domestic crime is also devastating because it is the horrible conclusion to a violent reality that he'd been going through for a while. Eva is six years old. She started school this year, too, in a village in Caraș-Severin county. The teacher braids her hair, hugs her often, and takes photos of her, and this makes Eva curious. So, at home, she asks her aunt: Is the teacher so kind to me because she knows my mother died? Her mother was murdered in February by her abusive lover. They'd been in a relationship for a few months. Before losing her mother, Eva was witness to scenes of violence and she was also hit by this man. The little girl doesn't go to therapy, she doesn't receive any financial aid, not even a survivor's pension, because her mother didn't have an employment contract: a necessary condition, in order to receive the minimum sum of 1000 lei. Because of this, many of these children don't receive survivor's pensions. Even though we know from the research done to date that victims of domestic abuse are often controlled so much, that their abusers don't allow them to work. In the last 10 years, 230 children have become orphans, as a result of crimes between intimate partners. Before you ask yourself if that's a lot or not, you should know that the statistics are incomplete. Because institutions, such as DGASPC Vrancea don't count them and other directorates have admitted that what they sent me is incomplete.

In Italy, a special law for these children passed in 2018. They receive free therapy their entire life, support for education, and a monthly allowance. This programme is financed by the state and costs 12 million euros annually, after researchers have estimated that, between 2000 and 2015, 1600 children became orphans as a result of domestic crimes. While other countries implement special programmes for the children who become orphans as a result of femicides, offering free long-term therapy for the children and special allowances, in Romania, we don't even know how many of them there are and how we can help them. And the families raising them are paralysed by shame, tangled up in a bureaucratic maze, uninformed and overwhelmed by financial woes. We should have authorities who collect data about orphans.

Then, we should offer therapy and counselling to the children and the families taking care of them and we should support them with special allowances, because their mothers were murdered, as a result of gender violence. This would be a beginning for justice.



The People of Justice 2022 shows were produced alongside Decât o Revistă, a team of journalists who believe in the transformational power of stories.

Together with over 1,000 viewers, we imagined what a more just Romania could look like through vulnerability, empathy and the power of example. In each city we brought on stage lawyers, journalists, civic activists and artists whose true stories about justice: how we achieve it, what it means for justice, education, the healthcare system or our cities.


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