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Why Orphanages? Notes on Tough Times and a Bad Economy

         Published February 4, 2013
         By Laura

Under what circumstances would someone leave their child at an orphanage … If that parent had no intention of giving away parental rights?

What if you were a widow and jobs were scarce?

What if extended family couldn’t come to help?

What if, after several months of this, you couldn’t afford to buy food?

I’m just spit-balling here, with all the depressing What Ifs, but last Monday’s on Serbian adoption policies required a bit of clarification. Specifically, that U.S. State Department comment regarding adoption in Serbia:

Caution: Prospective adoptive parents should be aware that not all children in orphanages or children’s homes are adoptable. In many countries, birth parents place their child(ren) temporarily in an orphanage or children’s home due to financial or other hardship, with the intention of returning for the child when they are able to do so. In such cases, the birth parent(s) rarely would have relinquished their parental rights or consented to their child(ren)’s adoption.

I thought I’d share a little insight into the current economic situation in Serbia …

Average monthly salary in Serbia = $400-$500

Sometimes children are put into orphanages (temporarily) because the family does not have economical means to care for the child … at that time. The average take-home salary of $400-$500/month includes jobs such as: teacher, nanny, shop keeper/owner.

Luckily, healthcare is subsidized by the government, but making everything “work” on $500/month, including food, daily expenses, clothing, utilities, and transportation. That’s tough. Insult-to-injury: “luxury” items like cars, brand names (like The Gap or Tonka toys) cost the same as in Western Europe and the U.S..

Unemployment and Lay-offs

And what happens when that $500/month job is lost due to unemployment? Well, that’s when the shit hits the fan.

There are no credit cards. A few people have credit cards, but they got them outside the country.

There are no 401K or savings to cash in. People get pensions when they retire, but that’s at retirement age.

There are no home mortgages. It is very hard to get a mortgage, let alone save enough for a down payment. People get lucky and own apartments–but at this point they usually they have been passed down from previous generations. (During communism, workers were given state-owned apartments as a part of their government work.)

So today, even if you could get a loan (from a bank, not the mafia, which as distinct disadvantages), there are no 30-year mortgages. A regular-sized, 2-bedroom $100,000 Belgrade apartment (real estate is expensive!) at 5% interest (let’s say no property tax) would be $1,000 a month for a 10-year term.  And remember … average monthly income is … $500.

War, Cancer, Death

Nice, right? Anything else heavy and disheartening you want to pile on us today?

A catastrophic event. A family emergency. Plain ol’bad luck (spit on the floor, throw salt over your shoulder). No savings; the economy is for shit; inflation is out-of-control. The government is barely standing and can’t help … What do you do then?

Well, that’s why there are orphanages; they are the option of extreme last resort. They can be a temporary stop-gap measure, until Mom can get back on her feet, or until borders are safe so that family members can come in to help.

I’ve said before, from all of my experiences here: Children are cherished. Moms are respected. People want to help each other. But, when the shit-hits-the-fan, sometimes life necessitates that you put your kid in foster care until you can provide for him. That’s life.

* Income statistics in Europe

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From → Adoption, Expat Mommy

4 Comments
  1. As you say, shit happens, and when life is so difficult, I suppose that parents are just doing what they can. That said, my husband was born in a middle-class family and for some reason his mum couldn't cope (we don't really know what happened). He ended up being cared for by foster carers for a few years, and then went to a boarding school. His sister stayed with the parents. Each story is unique. To this date, he doesn't know why they did this to him.

    He was lucky to have been loved/adored by the foster parents, and at the end of the day it is what matters.

  2. This is so tragic. I feel for these families. I can't imagine having to leave my child in an institution because I couldn't feed him/her. Desperate people must do desperate things. To me, it shows an incredible amount of love for parents to put aside their own feelings to make sure their children are cared for. It breaks my heart. And it makes me feel grateful. Exposure to situations like this make me incredibly thankful to be where I am. Thanks for sharing Laura.

  3. God damn – that's pretty dire. I had no idea.

    • Laura permalink

      I know, right? Thanks for reading and commenting–it's great to be a part of PBAS!

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