Sunday, January 21, 2007

Russia Orphanages

Russia is filled with Orphanages

It is sad to know the future for most of these kids, ... statistics show that 80% of the girls will become prostitutes and most of the boys will go to prison after they are released from the orphanage.


We did a lot of art in the dom rebyonka (baby house). The children were begging us to hang their paintings over their bed. The staff took the paintings and we never saw them again. They said that these children are being raised in state institutions and would always be in groups the rest of their life. No reason to pamper them with personalized things now, because they wouldn’t be allowed such things later in life. And that would only make problems. This mentality is so entrenched.2


Russian institutions are bursting with abandoned children, who now total more than 600,000 children who are defined by the state as being "without parental care.”4 During each of the last two years, more than 113,000 children have been abandoned, reflecting a breathtaking rise from 67,286 in 1992. Another 30,000 arereported to run away from troubled homes each year, clogging the urban railway stations and metros, sometimes ending up in shelters and orphanages.5

Since the collapse of Soviet rule in 1991, these children have become the jetsam in Russia’s stormy economic transition. Their families are often poor, jobless, ill, and in trouble with the law; this burgeoning class of abandoned children has come to be called "social orphans"—indicating that ninety-five percent of abandoned children have a living parent.6

Official statistics on abandoned children abound, and the figures gathered from various official sources often do not correspond. The institutions that care for children span three government ministries, and the categories listed in statistical tables either overlap or are so vaguely defined as to make a fine breakdown of numbers extremely difficult. 7

According to compilations published by UNICEF in 1997, some 611, 034 Russian children are "without parental care." Of these, 337,527 are housed in baby houses, children's homes, and homes for children with disabilities.8 According toa Russian expert in their field, the latter figure includes children living part-time at home, and the full-time orphan population in institutions is closer to 200,000. Of these, at least 30,000 are committed to locked psychoneurological internaty for “ineducable” children, run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.9

The remaining number, according to government tables, are placed in alternative custody, including group homes and other guardianship perhaps with members of a child’s extended family. Although some tables list foster care as one of the alternative forms of custody, an international child development specialist told Human Rights Watch that there are only several hundred children living in family-sized settings, and that the standard “foster care” involves larger groups.10 Human Rights Watch commends the few pilot programs in foster care that have begun in Russia and urges speedy development of further projects that provide humane alternatives to large institutions.

It was beyond the scope of this report to conduct a full investigation of the many categories of institutions. But based on reliable sources most familiar with custodial care for abandoned children, Human Rights Watch has focused on three classes of institutions for this report: dom rebyonka, dyetskii dom, and psychoneurological internat.

Archipelago of closed institutions

Orphans in Russia are herded through a maze of state structures operated by three government ministries, which compete for limited state funds and overlap in their mandates for certain categories of orphans and children with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is charged with the care of abandoned infants from birth toroughly four years of age, and houses them in 252 baby houses which are called "dom rebyonka," housing from 18-20,000 children.11

All abandoned infants spend their first three to four years in a baby house, and are then distributed to institutions under the control of either the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.12 Among those under the Ministry of Education, one group of children is deemed to have no disabilities, and the second group contains children diagnosed as lightly disabled, and officially termed "debil."

The most common institution for the "educable” children is called a dyetskii dom (children's home), which generally houses boys and girls. They generally attend regular Russian public schools for the compulsory nine years, where they can earn a secondary school diploma, or they can leave school at the age of fifteen.13

Abandoned children may also live in school-internaty, where they receive their education inside the institution where they live. Following secondary school, these children in the care of the Ministry of Education may receive two to three years of further training in a trade, which they pursue at another boarding institution under the Pedagogical Technical Directorate (PTU). While studying skills such as carpentry, electricity, masonry, and stuffed-animal making, among others, the children are housed in dormitories staffed by the Ministry of Education.14

At the age of five, the second group of orphans under the Education Ministry's purview—the debily—is channeled to spets internaty (or "auxiliary internaty"), where they reside while taking a significantly abbreviated course of education totaling six years, far short of a high school diploma. They are also offeredvocational training, but their program and residence are generally segregated from the non-debil orphans.15

Under Russian law, the state must provide all orphans leaving the care of the Education Ministry with an initial stipend, housing and employment. But the economic crisis since the introduction of market reforms and privatization of apartments makes this increasingly difficult. Indeed, the prospect of life in the outside world is a source of great worry to the orphans and child welfare experts alike.16

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development takes charge of orphans who are diagnosed by a board of state medical and educational reviewers as having heavy physical and mental disabilities at the age of four. Officially labeled "imbetsil" or "idiot," they are committed to closed institutions which often resemble Dickensian asylums of the nineteenth century. There they remain until the age of eighteen. Those who survive to that age are transferred to adult psychoneurological internaty, or asylums, for the duration of their lives. 17

Fragmentary statistics on the mortality rates in the institutions under the Ministry of Labor and Social Development indicate that these orphans are at significant risk of premature death. One leading child welfare advocate in Moscow told Human Rights Watch that estimates from government figures indicate the death rate in these internaty is twice the rate in the general population. He also knows one internat where he said that the death rate rose to as high as three and a half times the rate in the society outside its walls.18

While we were not able to obtain government statistics to corroborate these estimates in Russia, we noted that UNICEF researchers found higher death rates in these psychoneurological internaty across most of the former Soviet bloc.19 A1996 national statistic from Ukraine indicated that "approximately thirty percent of all severely disabled children in special homes—a staggering figure—die before they reach eighteen." 20

While UNICEF acknowledges that many of these children are at increased risk from their underlying conditions, it attributes part of the high mortality figures to crowding, poor hygiene, and low standards of care.21

Soviet-era policies and practices persist in Russian institutions. Renowned for its centralized control, the sprawling system of internaty for abandoned children was inspired by the Soviet philosophy favoring collective organization over individual care, and the ideal that the state could replace the family.22 Regimentation and discipline were integral to this philosophy, and restricted access to the institutions apparently permitted the director and staff to operate with impunity.

While most Russians who left their children in state care during the late Soviet period did so for such reasons as poverty, illness, and family problems, a certain proportion of children came from working parents and students who used the orphanages as weekly boarding institutions and retrieved their children during the weekend.

This was considered normal practice, according to the long-time director of a Moscow baby house, who told Human Rights Watch how university students would house their infants with her sometimes for two to three years:

We had families who had three kids who stayed here, then the parents finished studies and picked up the kids and left to go back home with them. We actually considered it to be fine. They were normal parents. They came and breast-fed them. In only one case the mother threw away (gave up) her child after six months.23

The contrast between the doctor's attitude toward children who had parents to visit them and those who were fully abandoned, illustrated the deep bias against orphans and their parents that endures today.

Orphan care varies broadly across Russia, making it very difficult to draw conclusions about cities, regions, or even classes of institutions. For much of this century, for example, Moscow has been a world apart from anywhere else in the sprawling country, and this gulf has widened dramatically with the lifting of market controls in recent years. In matters of public funding, children's institutions in the capital and several other main cities enjoy higher levels than those in the regions of Mordovia, Tver' and Smolensk.24

But even the USSR, in its idiosyncratic way, was a land of exceptions. Orphanage directors, like the bosses of factories and vast collective farms, enjoyed considerable discretion over their domains. The director's personal commitment to children's welfare worked to the favor or to the detriment of the orphans. Human Rights Watch learned of compassionate, energetic directors with imagination and pluck who sought out child welfare information from the West, and took the initiative to improve their institutions by raising money locally and training their staff.

The result today is a hybrid of the former centralized system and low-grade anarchy, which also applies to the uneven enforcement of laws and standards protecting children introduced by the Russian Federation since 1991. This is complicated by the process of decentralization generally unfolding in the government ministries that oversee the institutional care and the diagnosis of children.


Anonymous said...

I am an American woman who has adopted a baby girl from a Moscow orphange. My heart cries when I think of my daughter living out the rest of her days as an outcast in a system that sees her as less than human. I am looking for more information about her orphanage in Russia. I think she was treated very well, but I am curious to know more. Can you tell me anything about Moscow City Orphanage #14 (Baby Orphanage)?

Anonymous said...

hi my name is Irina borasova andreevna im am 17 and i live in oakland californoa i was an orphan in st petersburg because both my parents died. every night i think about them what they look like and every thing. i keep searching for answers but find nothing. any ways i love life now and i am happy in my family so for who ever reads this dont feel bad for me its okay. im a strong young girl going to school and living a great life

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Anonymous said...

I'm 17 years old and my best friend Maria Andrea was adopted from Moscow,, Russia when she was only 9 months old. She knows that her mother is alive, and really wants to find out where she was born. Does anyone know the adress of Baby Orphanage #13?

Anonymous said...

If you look at Karen you can find the state and the baby house, that's where I found my orphange , yes um searching for my mother,