Romanian babies became hot commodities in 1990 following the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. After 24 years of leadership, the Communist had been overthrown and executed on Christmas Day the year before, but he left behind thousands of children who had become state wards as a result of the nation's poverty and his policies. Contraception was illegal, and parents who couldn't support their children on the Romanian's $1,000-average salary left their offspring to squalid government institutions where they often became handicapped, diseased or deemed fatally "unrecoverable."
Following the 1989 coup, dramatic photographs of "Ceausescu's children" brought eager would-be adoptive parents to Eastern Europe. More than 3,000 Romanians were adopted in 1990 alone. But alongside the lawful adoptions came the faster, more expensive and often crooked practice of private adoption.
Local entrepreneurs coerced some Romanian mothers into giving up their children (while other parents reportedly offered their offspring to foreigners for as little as $1,000). American couples were able to bring children home by claiming a humanitarian exemption, even if the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service deemed that a child wasn't legally adoptable. Although tighter restrictions eventually reduced the Romanian "baby trade," a British couple was sentenced to 28 months in prison for trying to smuggle a baby out in 1994.
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