To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
Nearly 30% of all children with disabilities in Russia live in state orphanages where they may face violence and neglect, says Human Rights Watch.
The report, “Abandoned by the State: Violence, Neglect, and Isolation for Children with Disabilities in Russian Orphanages”, found that many children and young people with disabilities who have lived in state orphanages suffered serious abuse and neglect on the part of institution staff, which impeded their development. Some children interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that orphanage staff beat them, injected them with sedatives, and sent them to psychiatric hospitals for days or weeks at a time to control or punish them.
“Violence and neglect of children with disabilities in orphanages is heartbreaking and completely deplorable,” said Andrea Mazzarino, a Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Russian government should establish a zero-tolerance policy for violence against children in institutions and immediately strengthen programs to keep children in their families.”
The report is based on over 200 interviews with children, family members, advocates, and orphanage staff, and visits to 10 state orphanages across Russia where children with disabilities live. Most of the children in these institutions have families. But staff in institutions Human Rights Watch visited sometimes discouraged visits with families or other contact with family members, claiming that such contact “spoiled” children by getting them accustomed to too much attention.
Children and children’s rights activists reported that in orphanages children often lack access to needed health care, adequate nutrition, attention, and opportunities for play, and that many children receive little to no formal education. Lack of adequate support and training for orphanage staff, as well as understaffing, is a central factor in bad staff treatment of children. Children had few if any meaningful opportunities to seek help or report abuse.
In many cases, children with disabilities ended up in orphanages because healthcare workers pressured their parents to give them up, claiming that children lacked developmental potential or that parents would be unable to care for them. The lack of adequate and appropriate education, access to rehabilitation and health care, and financial and other state support in many communities in Russia also affected parents’ decisions to place or keep their children in institutions.
Within orphanages, Human Rights Watch documented the segregation of children whom staff deemed to have the most “severe” disabilities into so-called “lying-down” rooms, where they are confined to cribs and often tied to furniture with rags. Many of these children received little attention except for feeding and diaper changing. Many children in these settings are rarely if ever given the chance to leave their cribs, interact with other children, or go outside.
Under international law, Russia has a commitment to protect children from all forms of violence and neglect in order to ensure that children with disabilities are not separated from their parents against their will and to protect children with disabilities from all forms of discrimination.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Russian government to create a time-bound plan to end institutionalisation of children. Placing children in state care should be only for the short-term and in very limited circumstances that serve the best interest of the child and comply with international human rights law. The government should also provide social support and services to families to help them raise children with disabilities at home.
“Until the Russian government and donors act, tens of thousands of Russian children may spend their lives between four walls, isolated from their families, communities, and peers, and denied the range of opportunities available to other children,” Mazzarino said. “The Russian government can be doing much more to support parents raising a child with a disability, rather than pushing children into institutions.”