Whose Child is This?

For most,

For most, the warmth of spring eventually comes to swallow winter. But for the 842,000 children presently living in government-run orphanages in Russia, reports Children’s HopeChest, an evangelical organization doing multifaceted work with orphans, a piercing cold permeates their futures in the form of a social, spiritual, and emotional freeze—regardless of season. From the time they enter an orphanage until they "graduate" into a society that has few, if any, productive placements for them, the motherless and fatherless in Russia struggle against staggering odds for legitimacy, hope, and freedom.

Without a viable adoption or foster-care system, the orphanages are the default destination for the Russian children who, at a rate of 113,000 a year, are abandoned by their parents due to alcoholism, poverty, or other stresses.

In 1998, Human Rights Watch reported that Russian policy toward orphaned children violated as many as 20 of the 41 articles in the U.N.’s "Convention on the Rights of the Child." Descriptions of brutal practices like tethering children to their beds and sadistic, staff-condoned violence against younger children by their older peers created a damning portrait of cruelty, neglect, and oppression during these children’s institutionalized years.

Life isn’t easier when the children leave the institutions, usually between the ages of 16 and 18. The CoMission for Children at Risk reports that 60 percent of all girls leaving orphanages fall into prostitution, 70 percent of boys end up on the streets or in jail, and 15 percent of orphans commit suicide within the first two years of being on their own. Through these startling reports, one begins to see the emergence of a new gulag system in Russia—a system holding more than half a million children in captivity.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2004
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