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Hungary Ponders What To Do With Its Unwanted Children

September 11, 1996

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ A string of infanticides and critical news stories on adoptions by foreigners have turned the plight of unwanted children into a hot topic in Hungary.

With more than 22,000 orphaned or abandoned children in state custody, people are asking questions about regulations and procedures in adoptions and also about Hungarians’ own willingness to adopt youngsters.

Economic distress and the loosening of social controls after the collapse of communism have exacerbated the problems of children without families _ and of families with too many children.

Fifty-four infants have been reported killed in the past two years by parents who could not afford them.

In response, Agost Schoepf-Merei maternity hospital in Budapest put an incubator at its entrance where mothers can anonymously leave unwanted babies.

None has been left since the incubator was set up in May. But Dr. Gyoergy Garamvoelgyi, the hospital administrator, says it will stay as a ``symbol for potential infant-killer mothers _ that there is an alternative.″

The surplus of unwanted children has drawn the attention of childless couples abroad who see Hungary as a potential source of adoptable children since neighboring Romania clamped down on adoptions by foreigners.

According to regulations, if a child cannot be placed in Hungary, he or she can be offered for adoption by foreigners through registered adoption agencies.

Only about 100 Hungarian children ended up with foreign parents last year, but the tabloid press has extensively played stories on often high-cost foreign adoptions and on allegations of baby trafficking.

The news that American-Hungarian adoption middlemen _ New Jersey-based East-West Concepts Inc. _ were exhibiting pictures of Hungarian children on the Internet rankled some feelings.

``I see that it is easier to advertise children on the Internet than to follow the traditional process of trying to find adoptive parents for them, but they are not animals to be put on show,″ said Karoly Gaspar, a department head of the Health and Welfare Ministry.

But the work of East-West Concepts also points to a problem many Hungarians do not like to talk about.

Janos Samu, the Hungarian-born head of East-West Concepts, said about 95 percent of the children listed by his agency are the offspring of Gypsies, who are largely ostracized in Hungary.

The majority of adoptable children are Gypsies, but few Hungarian parents want them.

``Hungarian adoptive parents mostly ask for non-Gypsy children,″ said Gyula Kovacs, who runs a state orphanage.

A brochure for prospective adoptive parents from East-West Concepts suggests they would perform a good deed by adopting Gypsies.

If they don’t, ``for years and years, Gypsy children stay in state orphanages,″ says the brochure. ``They are victims of ethnic discrimination.″

Another area that has drawn negative news coverage was a case in which pregnant Hungarian women were paid to travel to the Unites States to deliver their babies. The infants, U.S. citizens by birth, were then surrendered for adoption.

In that case, a Hungarian-born Canadian, Marianne Gati, was arrested in California on charges of tax fraud and harboring illegal aliens. She allegedly brokered the transactions for up to $80,000 a baby, charging higher prices for babies with light complexions than for darker ones.

Authorities in neighboring Austria are investigating reports of a similar operation in their country involving Hungarian mothers.

One of Hungary’s best-known family planning specialists, geneticist Endre Czeizel, has been implicated in an adoption scandal. He faces charges of going outside legal channels and ``changing the family status″ of seven children by separating them from their natural parents and having them adopted by Americans.

Czeizel acknowledges he helped place babies with American couples, but denies any wrongdoing.

``We never received any money for referrals,″ Czeizel said.

He said his team took part in mediating the adoption of three children in Hungary by American couples and helped four pregnant women travel to the United States for subsequent adoptions there.

Czeizel said he acted out of concern for the welfare of the children and mothers, all of them poor.

``We surely have saved lives,″ he told the newspaper Magyar Hirlap, suggesting that otherwise some of the babies might have been killed by their mothers.

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