1991 Photo Contest, Daily Life, 2nd prize

James Nachtwey

Magnum Photos for The New York Times

01 January, 1990

Original caption from World Press Photo (1991)

Romania: An older mentally disturbed child has no clothes and urinates on the floor. The rest of his life will be spent in this home where he has only a bare iron bed.

In 1966, Romania's president Nicolae Ceausescu had issued a decree, banning birth control and declaring abortion illegal for any woman younger than 45 who had not yet produced four children. His aim was to expand industrialization by expanding Romania's workforce, but his harsh economic measures forced many parents to abandon their children as they could not support them.

After the 1989 revolution and the subsequent execution of Ceausescu and his wife, the legacy of his decree became painfully visible to the rest of world. Approximately 100,000 children had been confined to institutions where they lived in the most squalid conditions. Facilities for handicapped, such as the one where this boy lives, are particularly unhygienic and understaffed.


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More information
Through a Glass Darkly, by Robert Godden, published on Witness in September 2017
How should vulnerable children be represented in the media? Are we guilty of applying different ethical standards dependent on the race, ethnicity, nationality, location, gender or class of the child? Robert Godden explores these questions and provides guidelines for photojournalists and organizations. 

About the photographer

James Nachtwey

Photographs of the Vietnam War and the American Civil Rights movement inspired him to become a photographer. While teaching himself photography, he worked as truck driver and as ...

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