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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow to Get Child Abuse Hot Line

Two weeks after President Vladimir Putin ordered his Cabinet to tackle the problem of homeless and runaway children, government officials have slapped together a plan to get kids off the street with the help of a 24-hour hot line, new shelters and task forces at four separate ministries.

Beginning Friday, the Labor Ministry is to start operating a Moscow hot line for reporting cases of child abuse, neglect or homelessness, Deputy Labor Minister Galina Karelova told reporters Tuesday.

"Any adult can call to say a child is being neglected or is freezing on the street, any child can call to say he has been a victim of violence," she said.

With the unwieldiness and poor coordination of the country's child welfare system, government officials hope the hot line will help authorities locate and take care of youngsters living on the streets -- estimated to number at least 1 million nationwide.

The hot line, to be staffed by ministry officials and social work students, will operate for at least six months, during which the ministry hopes to "make arrangements" for the children, Karelova said.

While the kids' ultimate destination could be home, foster care or a permanent child welfare institution, the immediate steps to take will be up to the hot line operators. Most children, Karelova said, would be sent to one of the city's three existing shelters or one of six new shelters to be opened later this year.

Under the plan, police officers would be responsible for bringing the children to the shelters and establishing their identities. Karelova did not say whether this would entail changing existing legislation, which does not allow police to detain street urchins unless they are suspected of a crime.

The Interior Ministry has not issued any official statement on its role in the plan, but some officials reached Tuesday were less than enthusiastic about chasing runaways and suggested that other ministries were shirking responsibility.

"Putting police in charge will not solve the problem of homeless kids. We won't be able to do more than catch them," said an official at the ministry's department for ensuring public order, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Karelova said she would meet with Interior Ministry officials Thursday to discuss cooperation.

"We understand the main burden of the problem is on the Interior Ministry at the moment but we are ready to assist," she said.

Karelova also said that four task forces will be formed at the Interior, Labor, Education and Health ministries to handle different aspects of the problem.

Earlier this month Putin scolded Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko for the government's failure to deal with homeless children and the "criminalization of teenagers."

Most street urchins are not orphans but have run away from parents who drink heavily, abuse them or have no money to feed them.

Some 90 percent of Moscow's homeless children have flocked to the capital from the regions or CIS countries.

Child welfare experts have warned against expanding and "bureaucratizing" the existing system, calling instead for streamlining and better trained social workers.

The number of the Labor Ministry's hot line is 925-5385.