Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 23:38:32 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: RIGHTS-RUSSIA: Children Biggest Victims of “Market Reforms”
Article: 84712
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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Market Reforms Left Children Behind

By Sergei Blagov, InterPress Service, 13 December 1999

MOSCOW, Dec 13 (IPS)—While millions of Russians are struggling to survive an economic slide, boys and girls appear as the system's prime victims.

“The state must not ignore the rights of children, a minority in the imperialism of adults,” said activist Boris Altshuler, commenting Unicef's “State of the World's Children, 2000,” released Monday

Altshuler heads the Moscow-based The Right of a Child non- governmental organisation (NGO).

“The country's leadership should not ignore the formula coined by (Russian writer Fedor) Dostoyevsky—‘universal interests are not worth a tear of a child’—it's very serious,” he said.

The world enters a new millennium with many promises to its youngest citizens still unfulfilled and children continue to be killed, injured and exposed to abuse in violation of their rights, Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, said in The State of the World's Children.

Unicef's Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that significant changes for children could be made within a single generation if their rights are truly honoured.

The agency has long urged Russia to spend more on social programs to protect its 37 million children from the effects of economic decline. And with a deepening financial crisis, the impact on families is even worse.

Children are dropping out of school, going onto the streets, getting involved in crime and drugs. Russia has at least 600,000 abandoned children, most of them deserted by their parents, and the number is on the rise.

Thousands of children in Russia run away from home, usually to escape alcoholic parents who rarely try later to find them. The number of homeless street children is also rising.

Furthermore, abandoned children often face no better future than suffering abuses in Russia's state-sponsored—and underfunded - orphanages.

Thousands of Russian children in state orphanages are exposed to punishments verging on torture and suffering brutal hazing by older children thus being deprived of basic human rights at every stage of their lives, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Beginning with infancy, many orphans classified as severely disabled are segregated into “lying down” rooms in the nation's 260 “baby houses (dom rebenka),” or the orphanages, where they are changed and fed but are bereft of stimulation and medical care.

“Orphans are defenceless—it's a universal problem, not just Russia's,” Anatoly Severny, president of the Russian Independent Association of Psychiatrists and Psychologists told IPS.

But in some Russian “special” orphanages children's life tend to become a tragedy, he said.

Those who are labelled retarded, or “oligophrenic” (small- brained), face another grave violation of their rights around the age of four. At that time, a state commission diagnoses them as unable to receive education and warehouses them for life in institutions known as “psychoneurological internats” or “special orphanages.

Underfunding makes conditions there desperate.

“Up to 75 percent of these stern judgements are simply wrong, but after this diagnosis, it is virtually impossible for an orphan to appeal the decision,” argues Severny.

Even some children with a very minor physical or mental handicap could be consigned to life in a “permanent underclass,” with inadequate food and medical care, and no hope of any education.

Some children—hastily diagnosed as disabled—are condemned to lives in bed and kept from learning to walk or read, the report said. Many of them die young.

The orphans may be restrained in cloth sacks, tethered by a limb to furniture, and sometimes left to lie half-naked in their own filth. In such “baby houses” and “internats,” children may be administered powerful sedatives without medical orders.

A decade ago, in 1989, the world recognised that children had basic rights and embodied them in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In October 1999, Amnesty International has voiced concern over children's rights violation in Russia and urged the Russian government to enforce the Convention.

None of the recommendations of human rights activists has been carried out so far, notably regarding the rights of 70,000 kids in “special orphanages,” locked and isolated institutions, which are little better than prisons, Altshuler argues.

Human rights activists have called for the Russian state to reform policies toward abandoned children, including those with disabilities. Particular targets of reform are the ministries of Health, Education and Labour, which administer institutions for abandoned children.

Last September, the Russian government promised to establish the post of Federal Commissioner on the Rights of Children. However, with a background of electoral political struggles and the on-going war in Chechnya, this new office is likely to take some time to function.

About 200,000 children reside in state institutions in Russia. More than 600,000 children are classified by the Russian authorities as being “without parental care,” though 95 percent of them have a living parent.

“Unicef is keen to increase our efforts to help children in concrete orphanages mentioned in the report,” Vera Gavrilova, project co- ordinator of Moscow's Unicef office told IPS.

Russia's once advanced education system has suffered decline since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, and school dropout rates have risen.

Cash-strapped children's institutions are increasingly incapable of providing proper care for children and some Russian regions, in co- operation with Unicef, have launched programs to move the kids into foster families away from the institutions.

“Despite problems and setbacks, a universal human rights culture is developing in Russia, including the rights of children,” said Alexander Gorelik, director of the UN Information Centre in Moscow. “There is no lack of legal documents—the main problem in Russia is enforcement,” he said.