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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Children and the State

The first in a two-part series on children's problems in Russia. Tomorrow's comment: "Children and Volunteers" by Olga Alekseyeva.

Children are our tomorrow. A safe, happy generation of children is the happiness of parents in their old age and the future success of the country. Tomorrow seems to have in store an unhappy, tormented generation surrounded by indifference. As the saying goes, "As you sow, so shall you reap." What kind of society are we preparing for our children?

The Soviet Union always strove to show the superiority of its way of life and political system over other countries. In many areas, the Soviet government unquestionably outstripped the entire world. For example, as Vladimir Vysotsky once sang, Soviet ballet was indeed "ahead of the rest of the planet." But when it came to criminality, we were well behind the West. And especially juvenile criminality. Today, however, we have not only caught up but surpassed the West in the rate of growth of adult as well as juvenile crime.

According to the Russian Interior Ministry, the number of crimes in the country has risen to almost 3 million. The percentage of crimes committed by minors was always very small. Our relationship to children was always special: they were called "life's flowers," a privileged class. And although many such pronouncements were merely declarations, the care we took of the young was something many other countries could envy.

Many institutions dealt with children's problems: Day nurseries, kindergartens, schools, pioneer camps, clubs, trade schools, orphanages and sanatoriums. What's more important, the country lacked the political and social basis for juvenile crime. There was no unemployment, poverty, hunger and hardly any social inequality, for the majority of people lived on the same, entirely adequate, material level. Thus, the factors that account for most crime were lacking. The cataclysmic changes the country is now undergoing as it engages in political, economic and social reform and repudiates its former moral values inevitably reflect most of all on the young.

If in the past most juvenile crimes stemmed from a low level of moral education, ignorance of the law, absence of a father, neglect, family troubles, alcoholism and amoral dissoluteness of the parents, then added to these are now even more serious factors -- those which derive from the change in the social and economic system in the country.

The principles of collectivism have changed into those of individualism. The slogan, "A person is a friend, comrade and brother to another," has been replaced with "A person is a wolf to another." Pure acts of hooliganism have given way to mercenary, violent crimes, which are often committed with the use of firearms. More and more boys and girls are involved in organized crime. Sadistic murders, which in the past were isolated cases, have now become customary, and no one is surprised by them. But one cannot help but be alarmed over their cruelty.

One such case involved three 14-year old schoolboys who after discovering in the basement of their apartment building a bomzh, or a person without a definite place to live, doused him with a canister of kerosene that lay nearby. As they later explained, they intended to use the kerosene to get rid of the homeless man's lice. But one of the minors had an entirely different aim in mind. Knowing exactly what he was doing, he threw a match at the old man, who burned to death. Alas, the boys were not handed over to the courts. According to current Russian law, they could not be tried. The boys continue to go to school and, remorselessly, consider themselves heroes. They were not even punished by their parents.

Of course, there is no such thing as bad children. There is only bad upbringing. Parents today, who must use all their strength to bring in more income to get by, have less and less time to devote to their children. Schools more and more often announce that their task is in no way to raise children but to give them a minimum amount of knowledge. Television is now seducing children with its cult of profit, sex and violence. The crisis in education and culture and in the economy is promoting the growth of juvenile crime. Moreover, there have not yet been any systematic approaches to solving this problem by the law enforcement bodies. The Interior Ministry organs have yet to make fighting it a priority. Meanwhile, crime is becoming more and more a problem of the young.

In the past few years, more than 400 kindergartens have closed and been handed over to commercial enterprises. Hundreds of thousands of adolescents have been thrown out of schools. In Moscow there are more than 50,000 besprizornik, or homeless children. On five occasions, President Boris Yeltsin issued decrees on the problem of juvenile criminals. Alas, not one of them has been carried out. And no one has taken responsibility for them. It is as if someone in Russia were purposely creating criminal conditions.

Children will not love their country as long as those who surround them do not love them. Nothing corrupts a young soul as much as the feeling that no one in the country needs him. Millions of young citizens today live with such a feeling. An enormous responsibility lies on the Russian people's shoulders for their happiness -- and for the future. Maxim Gorky had some apt words to say about this: "We are leaving the earth and the children will remain. Let us take care that their lives will be easier than ours, so that they do not suffer so much from the thorns of our crimes, as we all suffer while we correct our past mistakes and make new ones."

Yury Belkin is a political observer for the Communist newspaper, Pravda Rossii. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.