NPR logo PHOTOS: In Romania, Santa Steps In To Help Fight Stigma Of Down Syndrome

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PHOTOS: In Romania, Santa Steps In To Help Fight Stigma Of Down Syndrome

A child laughs as he receives presents from a man dressed as Santa Claus during a Christmas party for children affected by Down Syndrome, organized by the Angels Down Friends association in Bucharest, Romania, on Friday, Dec. 18. i

A child laughs as he receives presents from a man dressed as Santa Claus during a Christmas party for children affected by Down Syndrome, organized by the Angels Down Friends association in Bucharest, Romania, on Friday, Dec. 18. Vadim Ghirda/AP hide caption

toggle caption Vadim Ghirda/AP
A child laughs as he receives presents from a man dressed as Santa Claus during a Christmas party for children affected by Down Syndrome, organized by the Angels Down Friends association in Bucharest, Romania, on Friday, Dec. 18.

A child laughs as he receives presents from a man dressed as Santa Claus during a Christmas party for children affected by Down Syndrome, organized by the Angels Down Friends association in Bucharest, Romania, on Friday, Dec. 18.

Vadim Ghirda/AP

Folk costumes, gifts, carol-singing and a visit from the man in red himself: a celebration in Romania last week was rich in Christmas cheer.

Angels Down Friends, founded in 2013 by the parents of a child with Down syndrome, organized the event to encourage parents of children with the condition and with the long-term goal of more fully integrating young people with Down into society. i

Angels Down Friends, founded in 2013 by the parents of a child with Down syndrome, organized the event to encourage parents of children with the condition and with the long-term goal of more fully integrating young people with Down into society. Vadim Ghirda/AP hide caption

toggle caption Vadim Ghirda/AP
Angels Down Friends, founded in 2013 by the parents of a child with Down syndrome, organized the event to encourage parents of children with the condition and with the long-term goal of more fully integrating young people with Down into society.

Angels Down Friends, founded in 2013 by the parents of a child with Down syndrome, organized the event to encourage parents of children with the condition and with the long-term goal of more fully integrating young people with Down into society.

Vadim Ghirda/AP

But it had a serious element as well. The gathering — featuring more than 50 children with Down syndrome and their families — was part of an ongoing project to reduce the stigma of Down syndrome in Romania, and encourage the parents of children with the disorder, the Associated Press reports.

An 8-year-old girl laughs as she walks away with presents from Santa at the party. Dozens of children sang, danced and received presents during the event. i

An 8-year-old girl laughs as she walks away with presents from Santa at the party. Dozens of children sang, danced and received presents during the event. Vadim Ghirda/AP hide caption

toggle caption Vadim Ghirda/AP
An 8-year-old girl laughs as she walks away with presents from Santa at the party. Dozens of children sang, danced and received presents during the event.

An 8-year-old girl laughs as she walks away with presents from Santa at the party. Dozens of children sang, danced and received presents during the event.

Vadim Ghirda/AP

There are few facilities for individuals with Down syndrome, and most women who learn their children are at risk of developing the syndrome choose to have abortions, an obstetrician tells the AP.

A child peers from below the stage during the party. There are tens of thousands of children with Down syndrome in Romania; they face stigma and prejudice, reports the Associated Press. i

A child peers from below the stage during the party. There are tens of thousands of children with Down syndrome in Romania; they face stigma and prejudice, reports the Associated Press. Vadim Ghirda/AP hide caption

toggle caption Vadim Ghirda/AP
A child peers from below the stage during the party. There are tens of thousands of children with Down syndrome in Romania; they face stigma and prejudice, reports the Associated Press.

A child peers from below the stage during the party. There are tens of thousands of children with Down syndrome in Romania; they face stigma and prejudice, reports the Associated Press.

Vadim Ghirda/AP

Angels Down Friends, founded in 2013, is working to integrate children with Down syndrome into broader Romanian society. The organization believes there are as many as 50,000 people with Down syndrome in the country, the wire service reports, instead of the government-reported 30,000.

The Christmas celebration was "one step to change mentalities, attitudes, preconceived ideas," the organization said in a statement, according to the AP.

Children dance during the Dec. 18 event in Bucharest, Romania. i

Children dance during the Dec. 18 event in Bucharest, Romania. Vadim Ghirda/AP hide caption

toggle caption Vadim Ghirda/AP
Children dance during the Dec. 18 event in Bucharest, Romania.

Children dance during the Dec. 18 event in Bucharest, Romania.

Vadim Ghirda/AP

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