Plight of Russia's Orphans
By Linda DeLaine http://www.russianlife.net/article.cfm?Number=148
Summary: The statistics regarding Russia's orphaned and/or abandoned children are quite disturbing with Americans making up the majority of foreign adoptive parents. Reforms have been implemented but do little to improve living conditions in Russia's orphanages. What does the future hold for these children?
Many prospective American adoptive parents turn to foreign adoption. It's not any less expensive, but often does not take as long as a domestic adoption. There are those who choose foreign adoption because they feel they can offer a better life to a child from an under privileged country. Rumors abound that many of these countries, including Russia, do not care about family, children and place a low value on human life. In the case of Russia, evidence the high abortion rate; roughly 70 percent higher than in the U.S.
Abortion has become the birth control of choice; a choice made because of circumstances. Birth control is available in Russia, but it is expensive, whereas abortions are free. The overall health of Russia is poor. With as much as 20 percent of young women suffering from anemia, many choose abortion because they fear that they and/or their baby will not survive a full term pregnancy.
Economics are a reality when it comes to pregnancy. The Russian economy has improved during 2000, but it has a ways to go before prospective parents will feel they can afford children. Many who don't believe in abortion for religious reasons or think they can figure out a way to care for a child will deliver, only to place their baby up for adoption. Most of these infants and children are adopted by non-Russian families, primarily in the United States. A population crisis is in the making with the number of Russian citizens dropping by 8 million from 1991 to 1999.
Observers and adoptive parents have accused Russian orphanages of neglect and abuse. The reality is, these orphanages are underfunded, understaffed and over populated with children. Roughly 230,000 children are residents of the state orphanage system with over 650,000 in some form of state care. Itar-Tass has reported that some 90 percent of children in orphanages are not true orphans as they do have living parents. Due to poor conditions, inadequate nutrition and insufficient emotional care, many of these children are underdeveloped mentally and physically. The older the child and the longer he/she is in the system, the greater the emotional and, often, physical problems become. Disease passed on by the birth mother is frequent. In one orphanage in central Russia, all but one out of a group of 30 children had syphilis.
In most orphanages, children are bathed together with no hot water available. They dine on porridge and bits of chicken with no fresh fruits, vegetables or red meat available. They sleep in wards of typically 12 children on old mattresses with ragged blankets. Many of these facilities are under heated and toys or other tools to stimulate a child's mind are scarce. Many of these orphans suffer from weakened immune systems and, thus, all manner of illness. Their mental, emotional and physical development often seriously stunted.
In an attempt to reform Russia's adoption system, then president Boris Yeltsin signed a new adoption law in 1998. This law was intended to place higher criteria on foreign adoptions and encourage more domestic adoptions. In brief, foreign adoption agencies have to be certified by Russia in order to conduct business there. Certification requires passing a laundry list of qualifications designed to cut down on corruption and, what amounted to baby selling. Furthermore, when a child becomes available for adoption, there is a five month wait period before that child can be made available to foreign prospective parents. It is hoped that, in that period of time, a Russian family will adopt the child. New laws and tighter restrictions do nothing to improve the conditions of the state orphanages; this requires money.
From 1992 through 1999, some 15,000 orphans were adopted by Americans. The total number of Russian children adopted by foreigners, in 1999, was 6,200; 4,300 of which were adopted by Americans. Children adopted by Russian families, not including those adopted by blood relatives, was around 7,000. The total number of orphans available for adoption in 1999 was ca. 80,000.
On March 3, 2000, President Putin chaired a special meeting of his Cabinet. The sole item on the agenda was Putin's mandate for improving conditions of Russia's orphans. The fact that a vast majority of Russia's orphans do, indeed, have parents indicates deep problems involving the family and paternity. Putin ordered his ministers to submit proposals regarding ways to improve conditions of abandoned and orphaned children. This was the first time anyone could remember when the president had focused exclusively on the plight of Russia's unwanted children.
The Russian government issued a decree on April 22, 2000. This new law mandates that potential adoptive parents must be represented by only accredited adoption agencies. While agencies scrambled to gain this accreditation, adoptions that were in progress were put on hold or rejected altogether by the Russian regional courts.
According to the Russian Statistic Agency, there were roughly 39.3 million children in Russia at the end of 1998. Of this number, 621,115 were orphans. About one-third, 230,000, were housed in 1,600 orphanages. What's worse, only 249 of these orphanages contained 19,300 toddlers under age 4. The Statistic Agency also reported that roughly 70 percent of all orphans were known to have and had been diagnosed with physical and/or mental disabilities.
Human Rights Watch continues to report countless cases of routine abuse of children in orphanages. Roughly 20,000 children run away from orphanages every year, according to the Interior Ministry University. This statement went on to say that of the ca.15,000 children released from orphanages annually, some 10 percent commit suicide, 30 percent commit crimes and 40 percent are unemployed and homeless. Do the math - this leaves only about 20 percent who are able to make it on their own.
It is fairly easy to count the number of Russian children living in orphanages. However, it is almost impossible to know exactly how many more children are living on the streets. Most of them pan handle or turn to prostitution to survive.
Adoptive parents were often not informed of their child's past or present medical problems let alone provided a medical history of the birth mother. Many such parents would sense problems when meeting their new son or daughter but reasoned that these were temporary issues which would go away once the child was home, well fed and nurtured. Sadly, this has not always been the case.