March 26th, 2006

I’ve just spent a depressing hour looking at websites about Russian orphanages. I wanted to give a researched explanation of why so many (an estimated 600,000 at any one time) are in the orphanages in Russia.

It couldn’t be more clear: they’re there because of poverty.

I found an astonishingly detailed report from Unicef about children and poverty in Russia. If you’re interested, you can find it here: In case you don’t want to wade through the entire report, here are some key facts:

  • fully 1/3 of the people in Russia are characterized as poor
  • 80% of these people are families with young children
  • although most people living in poverty include young children, the majority of social programs in Russia go towards serving the elderly.
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There’s more. According to the Census Bureau’s report on poverty in Russia, a household headed by a woman was almost 4 times more likely to be under the poverty level than one headed by a man. Half of all households living under the poverty line were headed by a member of the workforce.

I’ve also seen reports that although 1/3 of the people of Russia are considered “poor,” 2/3 of the Russian people are considered nearly poor – close to the line that designates the official poverty level. I’ve had a trouble figuring out exactly what the poverty line in Russia is, but one site, quoting 2001 figures, said subsistence level was $41/month. (Official minimum wage at that time was $6/month!) Subsistence level means enough calories to live and that’s about it.

So – you’re a young woman (married or not) who lives at or below the poverty level. You have no social support. You’ve chosen not to get an abortion (which is the birth control method most often used in Russia) and you have your baby.

You can’t feed yourself, much less a child.

What do you do? What choice to you have? Your mother, your aunts, your sisters – they have enough on their plates. You have to take the child to a baby home. You hope that one day you will get it together enough to take care of your child on your own, so you don’t relinquish rights (90% of the children in the orphanages are not available for adoption).

It’s very sad. I’m sure this isn’t a scene particular to Russia. This goes on all over the world.

One Response to “Why are there so many children in Russian orphanages?”

  1. ashababyhead says:

    You make very good observations about the social system in Russia regarding orphanages and families who don’t have the means to support their kids, but won’t sign off on them to be adopted, either. That’s why there are so many kids in orphanages and only a small percentage truly available for adoption!

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