The BBC carried a highly significant article earlier this month on the tragic situations facing many orphans within Russia—titled, “Are efforts to help thousands of ‘abandoned’ children being resisted?” For anyone concerned with the plight of orphans worldwide, the accounts it presents are both heart wrenching and revealing.
As much as anything else, the article reveals the tangled complexity one encounters whenever approaching the needs of orphans. A large portion of the children living in institutions in Russia have living parents…but in most cases those parents have little interest in receiving their children home. Said one girl named Sonya, “When I was born I had some problems, and in the hospital they said I was dead, or I wouldn’t live long, so my parents refused to take me.”
The situation is especially dire for children with special needs. Few orphanages provide more than very basic care to help kids overcome handicaps. Some reformers are working to see more orphans placed in home-based care, and the government’s new “Russia Without Orphans” program is purportedly designed to encourage adoption and foster care. But the orphanage system in Russia, like bureaucracy the world over, is highly resistant to change. Meanwhile, only about 7,000 children were adopted in all of Russia last year. Reforms and culture change won’t be easy.
Meanwhile, even initially healthy children languish in state-run institutions. Abuse by adults and older children, sever neglect, and other damaging experiences are common. One orphanage noted in the article saw least 41 children die over 10 years, apparently of neglect. And critics charge that such situations are far from uncommon.
What’s the answer? As the article makes clear, there certainly isn’t any single solution, nor any easy ones. Shifting from government institutions to small group homes and family-based care? Local adoptions? International adoptions? Effective local and foreign NGOs doing all they can? Let’s pray for all of the above—and especially that the Russian church will rise as the biggest answer of all!