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UN Human Rights Commissioner Informed of the Problems Facing Children in Russia


Boris Altshuler, 24/02/11

· Human Rights Defenders · Children's Rights

The speech by Boris Altshuler, chair of the NGO Right of the Child, at a meeting with Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation.
At the start of my speech, having thanked the UN High Commissioner for the opportunity to have this meeting, I briefly introduced myself. From the 1970s I was involved in the human rights movement in the USSR, working in close contact with Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov for nearly 20 years, and for the past 14 years I have devoted myself to the protection of the rights of children together with my colleagues from the NGO Right of the Child. I then went on to say the following:
In 1999 I met with one of your predecessors in the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, in Geneva. We discussed the issue of protecting children's rights in Russia; the same difficult problems, in other words, that we're going to be talking about today. In 1999 the Coalition of Russian NGOs presented its Alternative Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which commented on the Second Periodic Report of the Russian Federation regarding the observance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the Russian Federation. We prepared the next Alternative Report in 2005 and now, in 2011, we're once again preparing a similar report in connection with the presentation of Russia's next Periodic Report at the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Unfortunately, however, just like previous reports our new Alternative Report is not optimistic. Russian bureaucracy cannot be influenced in any way, including in its disregard for the UN Committee's often-repeated recommendations on implementing the Convention and creating effective mechanisms in Russia to protect the rights of children. Hopes for a breakthrough in this area recently emerged linked with the creation of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation as a structure independent of executive’s bureaucracy, as well as the establishment in September 2009 of the post of Commissioner for Children’s Rights under the President of the Russian Federation, an office with which we are collaborating closely.
I would now like to talk about a number of acute problems which have also been included in the letter which I gave to you now.
1. The mass institutionalisation of children. More than 400 thousand children are living permanently in residential homes in Russia, 1,5% of all children in the country. Of these, 25% are orphans, the rest are children given into State care by their parents because of child’s limited health capacity or the unfavourable socio-economic conditions in the families. That is, where the family is unable to cope with the situation itself, but there is no help at hand as the Russian social system does not provide help ‘within the home’, it knows only how to destroy a family, how to separate children and parents.
2. An effective (and extremely destructive) mechanism for the institutionalization of children is segregation in the field of education. A new law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation’ is currently under development, but conservatives from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation have so far disregarded all amendments to the legislation, including those proposed by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation aimed at turning the traditional exclusive principle of the Russian education system into the inclusive one adopted in the civilized world.
3. The worst thing about this segregation of children with special educational needs is the over-diagnosis of mental deficiency, when so-called medical-psychological-pedagogical commissions declare children unteachable and send them off to orphanages run by social security authorities for life. For two years now I have been trying to save a boy from just such an orphanage, the Raznochinovsky Orphanage in Astrakhan Region. The legendary foster mother Vera Drobinskaya would like to foster the boy, who is called Vasya Makarov. But nothing is happening! In December 2010 Pavel Astakhov, Children's Rights Commissioner under the President of the Russian Federation, met with this family along with Vasya Makarov, who is now over 16 years old. His considered opinion was that the child could be fostered by a family. But even his opinion has so far been ignored by the authorities in Astrakhan Region. It may be supposed, of course, that there are serious reasons for such an uncompromising attitude, first and foremost of a corrupt nature: returning a child back to normal life from this underworld would be most likely to expose abuses in the illegal use of money for the ‘disabled’ accrued in children's savings books and illegal use of their accommodations and so on.
Additional material for publication:
In a letter to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation (see:, Vera Drobinskaya talks of a cemetery where foster children from the Raznochinovsky Orphanage are buried and includes a photograph from which it is clear that it is not a cemetery at all but a rubbish pit. She poses the following simple questions:
"I urge the Prosecutor General to investigate:
  • Why did these children die in an orphanage and not in a hospital?
  • Whether the necessary treatment was carried out as well as a post mortem following the death of the children?
  • Why Vasya Fedorov's official date of death does not match that known by the person who was in charge? (If necessary, I can provide contact details for this person.)
  • Whether those children listed as deceased are buried in that cemetery?
  • Also, what happened to the belongings of those children who died, which by law must be formally inventoried?
The disorder and almost complete lack of individuality, the anonymity surrounding the burial of foster children from the Raznochinovsky Orphanage provokes the suspicion that this is done intentionally in order to cover up how the rights of these seriously ill and dying children were violated in this orphanage, as well as possibly covering up how their belongings were illegally appropriated.
I also urge the Prosecutor General to look into how child welfare authorities monitor this part of the orphanage's work, and whether they monitor it at all."
4. I would also like to talk about demographics and the extremely difficult circumstances in which large families find themselves. In 1998 there were 22 million school children in Russia while on the 1st September 2010, 12.8 million children went to school - a decrease of 42% over 12 years. In the literal sense of the word, the country is dying out. Why? Because there is nothing for the children to eat and nowhere for them to live. Russia's salvation lies in families having many children, but it is exactly these large families who are finding it so difficult today.
Here are a few specific situations which are horrendous: The Bozhko family (a family with 4 children, one of whom is disabled, living in Sochi) have been homeless now for three years and have been living illegally in a garage close to the President of Russia's summer residence in Bocharov Ruchei. All of their appeals and requests for help have simply been ignored. The Astapenko family (a family of 7 children who have been living in Moscow for 18 years) and the Merekina family (with 6 children who have been living in Moscow for 13 years) have no place to live and are unregistered, and so fall outside the legal realm. The Panfilova family (with 4 children, one of whom is disabled, in Tverskaya Oblast) are living in appalling conditions and have lost all hope. And so on and so on. These are the types of complaints which the Public Chamber receives most often. The reply given by the authorities is always the same: there is no housing, there are not sufficient funds to purchase a flat for a family at market value, and social housing is not being built.
Why isn't social housing being built? Why are millions of Russian families finding it impossible to feed their own children properly? Why is there a waiting list of 1,900,000 children for day-care centres in this country? The answer is simple: it is because people in the Russian Federation - families and parents - have been completely removed from the decision-making process on those issues which are most important to them. The Public Chamber of the Russian Federation's main task is to promote the development of civic engagement, to help correct the unusual situation which exists at the moment where the country's citizens are being excluded from the decision-making process. But this task is an enormously difficult one.
I would like to thank you once again for this meeting and hope that we will be able to cooperate on the issue of protecting children's rights, including within the framework of the mechanisms of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
About the author: Boris Altshuler,
Chair of the NGO Right of the Child,
Member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation
For the Russian original see:
A report on this meeting can be found on the Public Chamber’s website, which also covers the main topics of Mrs. Navanethem Pillay’s short presentation:
Additional comment by Boris Altshuler: “I would only add that speaking about public oversight of human rights observance in State institutions, including places of detention, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner underlined that the independence of public inspectors from the authorities is the necessary precondition for public oversight to be effective. This point is important for Russia where the law on public oversight of places of detention has been in force for three years, and the independence of “public inspectors” from the authorities is problematic.
Letter from Boris Altshuler to Navanethem Pillay (copy kindly provided by Boris Altshuler)
14 February 2011
Her Excellency Navanethem Pillay,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations, CH-2011 Geneva-10, Switzerland
Dear Ms. Navanethem Pillay!
With this I draw your attention to two most painful problems of children in Russia.
1. More than 400 thousands of Russian children (1,5% of children population of Russia, see e.g. UNISEF Report-2009 “Children of Russia”) permanently live in State institutions, which is extremely harmful for child development. One of main reasons of this institutionalization is the segregation in education and its most tragic form – excessive diagnostic of mental disability which EXcludes the child not only from the education but actually is the life sentence for total exclusion from the society. Unfortunately the draft of new Law “On Education” prepared now in the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia preserves all the traditional segregation tools and rules.
Another reason which makes impossible the wide deinstitutionalization of inmates of internats in Russia is in the absence in the Law of the family-like (home-like) forms of care supervised and assisted by the social services responsible for the child. This may permit deinstitutionalization of all children, even of disabled or almost adult ones. In this way disaggregation of huge children’s institutions was performed in many countries. And in Russia we have Pavlovski Internat # 4 (Sankt-Peterburg) where 550 disabled kids live under responsibility of one “mother-father” – Director of Internat.
2. Another acute problem is the poverty and unacceptable housing conditions of families with children, especially of many-children families which only may save Russia today. The dramatic fact is that number of school children in Russia in 1998 was 22 million and in 2010 – 12,8 million. Soon there will be no children at all. The problem is well realized at the top political level. Nevertheless family Bozhkovy (4 children, one is disabled) live during 3 years illegally in garage, town Sochi, just near the President Medvedev’s Residence Bocharov Ruchei and all appeals for help are left without attention. In January two groups of families again addressed President Medvedev with their desperate Appeals: families Bozhkovy, Astapenko (7 children, Moscow), Merekiny (6, Moscow), Panfilovy (4, Tverskaya oblast), etc., etc. It is pain and tears just to read these Appeals.
Yours sincerely
Boris Altshuler (+7-903-709-35-49 &
Head of the “Right of the Child” NGO (member of the NGO Group for CRC, Geneva), Member Public Chamber of Russian Federation 4, Luchnikov Lane, Entr. 3, of. 6, Moscow, 103982, Russia. Tel./fax: +7-495-624-07-52