Michael Leidig in Bucharest By: - ROMANIA has moved to stop a new form of child abuse caused by hundreds of thousands of parents leaving their children and seeking work abroad.
A new law was drafted after numerous cases surfaced of abandoned children committing suicide or begging on the streets.
An estimated 2 million Romanians, from a population of 22 million, are working abroad.
If Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries, joins the European Union as scheduled on January 1, visa restrictions will be removed overnight, and the number is expected to rise further as job markets open up.
Even the most conservative statistics say tens of thousands of children have been left behind as one or both parents seek manual labouring jobs. Some youngsters are left in state orphanages or homes, but the vast majority are handed over to usually elderly family members already struggling with their own problems.
Those dumped include two boys who committed suicide when their parents left to work in Italy.
In a suicide note, Claudiu Popovici, 15, from Botosani, in eastern Romania, said he could not cope with the responsibility of looking after his two brothers, aged seven and 11, after both his parents found jobs in Italy.
Razvan Suculiuc, 11, from Iasi county, in the north-east, committed suicide after telling friends that he could not go on without his mother, Maria, who took a job in Italy to earn enough money to buy him a computer. He was found by his father hanging from a rope in the kitchen.
A psychologist in Bucharest, Gabriel Crumpei, said: "More and more kids who are abandoned by parents working abroad have emotional problems. Razvan had no brothers or sisters. He was unable to go on without his mother."
In Roman, a city 300 kilometres north of Bucharest, Ion Apreotesei has spent years away from his children.
"I have spent five years abroad, up to a year at a time, working in Spain and Italy picking fruit," Mr Apreotesei said. "I can earn €400 [$675] a month there but here I am lucky if I get €100. I often have to sleep rough and I miss my sons. Sometimes I cannot afford proper accommodation for myself, let alone them. Next year I will try to go to the UK. I hear there are lots of jobs there."
The new law means Romanians who leave the country legally to work abroad will have to provide a sworn affidavit about the number of children they are leaving behind and the contact details of relatives or friends who will be taking care of them.
But the National Agency for the Protection of Children's Rights, a governmental body, said the new law was "too little too late" and did nothing to help children of the many illegal workers who were also leaving youngsters behind.