The Forgotten Children of Moldova - Child Abuse in Europe's Poorest Country

The Republic of Moldova is an independent country bordered by Romania and the Ukraine. Its size is comparable to the State of Maryland. Although independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Dniester River. Generally regarded as the poorest nation in Europe, Moldova became the first former Soviet state to elect a Communist as its president in 2001. The country has a population of 4.3 million and is in population decline due to a low birth rate and the migration of citizens to other countries for employment.

Unless otherwise specified, the following factors were identified by UNICEF, and validated by the Kids First Fund during travels to Moldova, as key challenges:

  • Almost half of Moldova's people live below the poverty line. More than 46% of the population is below the government-defined subsistence minimum of US$90 per adult per month.
  • 25% of working adults have left the country to work abroad. National opinion polls conducted during 2000 found 40% of young people would leave Moldova forever if they had the chance. According to UNICEF, emigration has left 35,000 school age children without the care of both parents, and an additional 75,000 children with one parent abroad. These official statistics have been called into question, with some experts suggesting real numbers may be two or three times higher
  • Many children receive little nurturing in the home. There is a lack of stimulation for children in many families, especially those affected by extreme poverty. The overall lack of resources, with many families lacking toys or books, undermines the development of children. For example, 25% of three and four-year-old children are unable to name any color, and 50% of all children are unprepared for full-time schooling.
  • Health and education resources are deteriorating. Infant mortality rates are among the highest in Europe. The number of HIV-positive children and children with disabilities is increasing due to minimal health promotion, unsafe sexual contact, and inadequate medical services.
  • Moldova is one of the main countries of origin for the trafficking of women and children. The primary purpose of this human trade is for begging and sexual exploitation in Western Europe, the Balkans, Russia and the Middle East.
  • A Soviet-era tradition of institutionalizing children continues. The Soviet philosophy of welfare was to remove dangerous persons from society and to place them in the care of the state. This legacy largely continues in Moldova. Victims of child abuse fall under this category and are often placed in orphanages and boarding schools. Removal of abused children, rather than treating the whole family, remains an all-too-common solution.
  • Child neglect and abuse seems to be an accepted part of family life. In an extensive survey of parents conducted by UNICEF, four out of ten parents say physical violence "occurs frequently" in families in Moldova.

In many ways the child abuse situation in Moldova mirrors that of other former Soviet republics. Conditions in Moldova, however, seem to be more desperate as the country appears to be stuck in the culture of its Communist past and unable to make the economic leap to become an efficient food producer for Europe. Extreme poverty, corrupt government and a fractured family structure have conspired to create an almost hopeless future for at-risk children.

More information is available on child abuse in Moldova by reading the "The Forgotten Children of Moldova - Observations on Child Abuse in Europe's Poorest Country under the Reports and Studies section of the News pages.