Of all the privations and humiliations of life in Romania during the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, few policies were as downright awful as 1966’s Decree 770, designed to increase the country’s declining birthrate.
Abortion and birth control were outlawed. All women of child-rearing age were subjected to regular, compulsory gynaecological examinations. The definitive work on the subject is Gail Kligman’s endlessly grim yet outstanding The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescu’s Romania. (Spoiler: There is no happy ending. This Guardian Long Read is also worth your time).
The result of all this is widely known. When the state takes control of people’s bodies, it is no wonder that society becomes wholly brutalised. Tens of thousands of women suffered shocking injuries, and many others died, during back-street terminations. Families unable to feed themselves were forced to have children they could not care for. Hundreds of thousands – an entire generation – ended up in the appalling orphanages which remain the most vivid legacy of Ceausescu’s regime. It is unfortunate perhaps that many people in western Europe and North America still associate Romania with those half-starved, mistreated orphans, yet just as the images of Auschwitz at liberation will ensure such things never happen again, the memory of those poor children chained to beds and left for days on end must endure, insurance that we will never be confronted with their like again.
At least you’d like to think so.
The ramblings of Ninel Peia, a PSD senator, would suggest otherwise. Peia yesterday proposed legislation which would make huge monthly payments to all women with three or more children, for life. Those who have five or more offspring would be given a ‘Heroine Mother’ medal. Really. Ceausescu would be so proud his memory is alive and well.
There are currently 33 – yes, 33 – kids in Daughter of Bucharest Life’s class at school. As long as Romania struggles to educate the ones it has, and kills others with the shocking levels of its healthcare, the idea that the country needs more children is utterly ridiculous.
Indeed, far from encouraging big families Romania’s politicians should be doing the exact opposite*. It should be handing out free condoms left, right and centre, and ensuring that every woman who wants one has access to a free, safe abortion. A widespread programme of sex education preaching the value of contraception should be introduced on to the school curriculum (there is currently nothing). Child allowance (a paltry 80 lei per child) should be increased, but payment limited to the first two children.
Romania’s government will today launch a major anti-poverty initiative. Ensuring Peia’s ridiculous idea goes nowhere would be a very good start.
*Can we just add that we have nothing against large families per se. Indeed, we are godparents to the sixth-born child of some friends. But we should point out that they earn more in a month than we do in a year. They could afford fifteen kids if they wanted. As far as we are concerned everyone can have as many children as they like: just don’t ask us to subsidise them.