Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
Toward the end of 2012, our legislature and president passed the Magnistky Act, barring the entrance of Russian officials implicated in human rights violations. Russia retaliated in January 2013 by banning adoptions from Russia. That meant 46 American families would not bring to their homes the particular children whose names and pictures had already become part of the prayers and hopes of their hearts.
Now their children remain in the antiquated orphan care system in Russia, where large, regimented, institutional orphanages are still the standard. As I talk with people who’ve been in Russian orphanages and search the Internet for information from reputable sources, it doesn’t appear that much has changed since the 1998 Human Rights Watch report entitled Abandoned to the State: Cruelty and Neglect in Russian Orphanages.
Abandoned to the State lays out, step by step, the path of an orphan from birth to 18, if the child lives that long. It reads like an ominous choose-your-own-adventure book, except it’s not an adventure and there aren’t many happy endings.
From birth till 9 months or 1 year old, a baby abandoned at a hospital remains in the abandoned-baby wing of the hospital, in which babies with special needs are separated from the others. When the paper work is done, an apparently “normal” child goes to a baby house. If there are any signs of disability or ill health, the child goes to a “lying down” house. From now on, the only change for a “lying down” child will be to the “lying down” house for the next age group, and the next . . .
At age 3 those in the baby house undergo an unscientific, seemingly arbitrary test, after which they are sorted into 4 groupings which define their future life of institutionalization:
- Educable: Age 3-7, lives in a preschool house where there’s some basic education, and from which the majority of adoptions happen(ed). Then age 7-17, the child lives in a children’s home, from which he or she walks to public school, where orphans are ostracized, considered to be society’s refuse.
- Perceived cognitive disability: Boarding school with some education onsite with a slow pace. At best, a 17-year-old probably has gained about a 6th grade education.
- Ineducable: Considered to be incapable of learning or independent living, so is moved into a children’s sanitarium, then later to an adult sanitarium.
So far, what I’ve written is really only itinerary, not speaking of anything personal or emotional on that road from one age level to the next of orphanage life. Rather than risking passing on hearsay, I’ll quote Human Rights Watch:
Soviet-era policies and practices persist in Russian institutions. Renowned for its centralized control, the sprawling system of internaty [orphanages] for abandoned children was inspired by the Soviet philosophy favoring collective organization over individual care, and the ideal that the state could replace the family. Regimentation and discipline were integral to this philosophy, and restricted access to the institutions apparently permitted the director and staff to operate with impunity.
You don’t have to be an excellent between-the-lines reader to understand the atmosphere of the place and the vulnerability of the youngsters–among whom are the children whom 46 sets of parents expected to be enfolded in their families by now.
Pray for those parents, for their children, and for all those tens of thousands of children in Russian orphanages.
QUESTION: What has been your experience with Russian adoption or orphan care?
A couple years ago, I told our own adoption story. It begins here.
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