IWPR/CRS: Forgotten Orphans (A. Ramazanova)
- Caucasus Reporting Service
Chechnya: Forgotten Orphans
War and social breakdown have left thousands of children without a
By Asya Ramazanova in Grozny (CRS No. 321, 06-Jan-06)
In the safety of the small library of Grozny’s only orphanage Madina
Akhmadova, 15, sits and incessantly reads Agatha Christie detective
novels. “I’ve been here since 2001,” she explained sadly. “I came here
after my parents died. Mama died in the second war, papa in the first.”
Madina is studying in the eighth class of School No. 33 and says she
wants to study law at university, train to be a lawyer and “fight
injustice”. “First of all I will defend the rights of orphaned
children,” she said.
Recently, through the television programme Wait for Me - which attempts
to reunite orphans with members of their families - two of Madina’s
cousins were found in the city of Astrakhan. But Madina decided not to
go and live with them, choosing instead to stay with the woman she calls
“mother”, Birlant Kasayeva, who runs the Grozny orphanage.
“I also want to become independent and I want to help children and those
in need,” she said. “And this is my home. If I hadn’t come here I don’t
know what would have become of me.”
Chechnya’s labour and social development ministry estimates that the
republic needs at least ten orphanages to house needy children. But
currently it only has three -the one in Grozny where Madina lives and
two others in the villages of Gvardeiskoe and Kurchaloi, as well as two
rehabilitation centres in the towns of Argun and Shali.
The problem of orphaned children hit Chechnya suddenly and on a scale it
still cannot cope with. Chechens say the republic never required
children’s homes because traditionally orphans have always been looked
after by relatives or neighbours. The first two children’s homes in
Chechnya appeared only in the 1960s. It was always considered a disgrace
if the child of a friend ended up in such an institution.
More than a decade of conflict has changed everything. According to data
from the labour ministry, of 450,000 children under 18 in Chechnya
today, over 1,200 have lost both parents and 25,000 have lost one to the
fighting in the republic that has raged intermittently since 1994.
Another 19,000 children are disabled. Yet only 420 of these orphans are
in children’s homes or rehabilitation centres.
The Grozny orphanage relies heavily on private donations to keep going,
as international humanitarian organisations have not contributed towards
its upkeep for some time now.
Although the institution struggles, it rarely puts up children for
adoption, after some unfortunate experiences.
“One family took a little girl from us – and they beat her up,”
explained Lyudmila Mamakayeva, the institution’s chief accountant.
“Naturally she came back. We were obliged to give her back because she
was now officially registered with the family. But she returned all the
same. Last year, she and two other girls went off to college in Saratov,
and she got married there. It all turned out well for her in the end.”
The Grozny orphanage is well looked after and it is obvious that the
director and staff are busy and skilled at obtaining private donations.
Outside, there is a carousel, which they recently bought from a visiting
circus. Just recently, Russian soldiers delivered two sacks of flour and
3,000 roubles, and vegetables, fruit, flour, sugar and books arrived
from the Russian city of Izhevsk.
While they are well cared for in the orphanage, the children have little
support once they leave.
“I’m sorry that in the republic they still haven’t worked out what to do
with children when they reach 18,” said Madina Akhmadova. “That shows
how badly the state treats children.”
“Of course, by law, these children should transferred to another
institution, but we don’t have that option in Chechnya,” said Aindi
Khusainov, a senior official in the government’s social policy
department.“ There used to be special boarding schools and hostels but
they have been destroyed.”
Khusainov thinks Chechnya’s education ministry should set about opening
special schools for those who have left orphanages.
“I know we have an awful lot of problems, a huge lack of resources,
above all financial,” said Khusainov. “But things have reached such a
head now that we’ve simply got to do something about this.”
In neighbouring North Ossetia, the government has adopted a special
programme to tackle this problem, promising to build houses and flats
for grown-up orphans.
In Chechnya, the authorities say they have plans to provide new
institutions and homes for orphaned and disabled children to be covered
by the Russia-wide programme Children of Russia.
“We know that the situation in the North Caucasus and in the country in
general is not great,” said Khusainov.
“The state must be the first to hold out a helping hand. It is high time.”
Asya Ramazanova is is a reporter for Chechenskoye Obshchestvo newspaper