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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Issues Order To Help Orphans

Russia's neglected orphans were the focus of a special Cabinet meeting presided over by acting President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

In his opening statement, Putin called for a "system of state policy" that would improve the lives of orphans and children left without parental care, Itar-Tass reported.

"Ninety percent of the children in orphanages have parents," the agency quoted Putin as saying.

"This indicates the unhealthy state of society and a lack of attention by the state to the problems of family and motherhood."

As a result of the meeting, all ministries and government bodies dealing with child welfare were required to draft measures aimed at improving the overall situation of orphaned and abandoned children, Interfax reported.

"This is the first time in years that the government has specifically addressed the problem of orphans," Boris Altshuler, head of the nongovernmental Right of the Child program, said in a telephone interview.

"It is timely but whether or not it will change anything for the children remains a question," he said.

As of January 1999, according to the Russian Statistics Agency, 621,115 of the country's 39.3 million children were orphans.

Of those, nearly 230,000 lived in 1,597 orphanages that have been repeatedly criticized by everyone from international human rights organization to Russian police officials for neglect; a mere 249 of those orphanages housed 19,300 children under the age of 4.

Seventy percent of orphans, Altshuler said, had been diagnosed as either physically or mentally disabled.

In 1998, Human Rights Watch reported that children in orphanages are routinely abused and brutally punished and, last fall, head of the Interior Ministry University, Major General Viktor Salnikov, said that over 20,000 children run away from orphanages annually due to abuse.

"[Orphanages] distort the children's mental state," Altshuler said. "Children who graduate from [orphanages] are psychologically unprepared to live outside the institutions. Children should live in families."

But Altshuler said that adoption by foreigners is hindered by existing legislation, while adoption by Russian families is often opposed by the orphanages, which receive about 2,500 rubles (about $86) per child per month from the state budget.

"They don't want to give up their gold mine," he said.

According to Altshuler, of the roughly 15,000 teenagers who leave orphanages every year, 10 percent commit suicide, 40 percent become homeless and 30 percent become criminals.

Although the Russian Statistics Agency does not have exact figures for the number of homeless children among juvenile delinquents, agency spokeswoman Olga Kolesnikova said "the majority of [minors convicted of crimes] were street urchins."

In addition to the children living in orphanages or with foster families, an unknown number of children live in the street, making money by begging or prostitution.

According to Yelena Mironenko, deputy head of the Moscow police department for work with minors, her department has detained beggars as young as 2 and 3 years old. Ninety percent of these children are not Muscovites, she said.

On Feb. 25, the Segodnya newspaper reported that police detained Tamara Bashirova, a Pskov native who made her two daughters, aged 2 and 5, and two homeless girls, ages 8 and 10, beg door-to-door in downtown Moscow.

The girls were taken to a juvenile detention center before being sent on to orphanages. Bashirova was charged with involving minors in "anti-social activity," the newspaper reported.

Mironenko could not confirm the incident Thursday, but said an adult who was forcing a group of children to beg for money was detained Feb. 27. She refused to give any details.