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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Just Money Won't Cure Orphanages

The catastrophic state of neglect and incidents of abuse at Russia's orphanages and children's institutions is not peculiar to this country, but it does appear to be endemic to the former communist bloc, out of which all too many similar revelations have emerged.


The world was shocked by the plight of orphans in Romania some five years ago, when television pictures showed emaciated, naked children in cages or tied to their beds. Earlier this month, a similar state of affairs was made public in China, as a result of which the authorities have pledged to make radical improvements in the way state orphanages are run.


The appalling treatment of Down's Syndrome children and orphans in general in Russia as described in Genine Babakian's article last Saturday and Matt Taibbi's today is merely part of the same pattern, according to which society's so-called rejects are locked away from public view and abandoned to their fate.


Part of the problem is money. In a country like Russia, where industrial workers and other state employees are left unpaid for months on end, where almost every state institution is on the brink of financial collapse, it is scarcely surprising that those least able to defend themselves -- children and the physically or mentally handicapped -- should be at the bottom of the pile. There is no doubt that the lives of children incarcerated in orphanages could be improved enormously by a huge injection of funds.


But money is not the root of the problem. Much more important is the question of attitude. When Down's Syndrome children are kept tied up in immobilizing sacks in bare rooms, it is not because the institutions caring for them cannot afford to do otherwise, but because these children have been written off as useless to society. The state has stopped short of euthanasia, but not far short; essentially they are being left to die. Even worse, the parents of such children who might be willing to take on the task of caring for them themselves are discouraged from doing so.


The same attitudes prevail at the orphanages, where abuses against children are ignored or hushed up. On the rare occasions when such cases come to light, the offenders are simply transferred to different institutions, where they are free to continue their abuse.


Tragically, this state of affairs shows virtually no sign of improving. Attitudes of these kinds can take a generation to change, while the construction of a more humane care system will also require time and money. But this is no excuse for acquiescence. Public pressure and charity must fill the gap.