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Learning English - Words in the News
19 July, 2006 - Published 11:01 GMT
Romanian spy kids
Romanian President Traian Basescu
Romanian President Traian Basescu

Officials in Romania have revealed that the Communist-era secret police, the Securitate, used children as young as twelve to spy on parents, teachers and others. This news has shocked Romanian society. This report from Rob Cameron:

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The Securitate, with its network of agents and informers, struck fear into the hearts of ordinary Romanians. But 16 years after the end of the Ceaucescu era, news that those informers included schoolchildren has been greeted with genuine shock. According to the National Council for Research into the Securitate Archive, secret police operatives recruited networks of children to spy on their elders. Cazimir Ionescu is the Council's spokesman.

"The network was active in all districts. Kids as young as 12 or 14 were part of this. They were supposed to spy on their schoolfriends, their schoolfriends' parents and also their teachers."

The Council says it's uncovered hundreds of cases of children who spied for the secret police - informing on adults for listening to foreign radio stations or telling jokes about the Ceaucescu family. When it came to recruitment, the Securitate, it seems, used a carrot and stick approach. Sometimes they would offer a place at university as a reward for collaboration. But there were several cases where pupils were approached in school after getting into trouble and offered a way out.

Details of the extent of the operation remain sketchy. It's also unclear if it was deemed a success. But the revelations have stirred a nationwide debate in a country still coming to terms with its communist past.

Rob Cameron, BBC News

Listen to the words

people who give information to the police or security services about people they know

greeted with genuine shock
reacted to with real surprise and disappointment

secret police operatives recruited networks of children
people from the secret police got groups of children to work for them

a carrot and stick approach
a technique using the possibiltiy of rewards and the threat of punishment

getting into trouble
doing something wrong and being caught by teachers, for example

offered a way out
given a chance to escape punishment


deemed a success
thought to be a success

stirred a nationwide debate
became a topic that the whole country discussed

coming to terms with
accepting and recovering from the unpleasant experience of

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