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Russian children's rights group running on empty

Russian orphans in waiting blog
Orphanage children in waiting:  many Russian children, especially if disabled,  are given up for adoption because their parents can no longer care for them. Photo: David Turnley/CORBIS

In President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it seems, no axe is too small to grind – even a kiddie sized one.

Locked in a tit-for-tat political struggle with the U.S., the Russian parliament passed a law banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans, including some 300 who were in the process of adoption when the law came down.

Moscow physicist Boris Altshuler is one of a small band of advocates for adoption reform in Russia. He is pushing for a resolution for those children, many of whom are severely disabled and unlikely to find homes that will care for them – and get them expensive medical attention they need – in Russia.

But Altshuler himself, and his organization, Right of the Child, is in trouble. His government grant money has dried up, and he lacks foreign funding to support his work.  His outspoken criticism of violations of children’s rights has made him a public enemy to nationalist politicians who accuse him of slandering Russia and exporting its children to enemy countries.

This week his group was forced to close down their office and move to a one-room space shared with the similarly struggling Soldiers' Mothers Committee.  But with Moscow rents soaring, even that modest space may not last.

Ironically, Altshuler is widely quoted in the media, and invited to speak at international conferences on children’s rights.

But he wrote in an email, “we don’t have resources even to pay for Internet and telephone.”

Altshuler, whose father, Lev Altshuler, helped to develop the Soviet Union’s atomic bomb, is hoping the Kremlin will reinstate his grant. He and his colleagues spend their days and nights working on individual cases of child abuse and neglect as well as the failings of the child welfare system.

They recently helped to push through a measure that would ensure personal support for orphanage children who lack meaningful contact with adults.

They also rescue children labeled “ineducable” and locked up in grim institutions for the severely handicapped – most recently a 16-year-old girl who is deaf and wheelchair-bound, but intelligent and eager to learn. Their lobbying allowed her to get schooling that would break through her lifelong isolation.

“We work with the system and we work one child at a time,” he said by phone last week.

If that work is forced to stop it would be a shame for Russia. And a crying shame for its children.

For more information on Right of the Child, see website: http://right-child.ru/

Olivia Ward covered the former Soviet Union as a bureau chief and correspondent from 1992 to 2002. Her most recent story on Russian adoption is in the Star’s World Weekly.



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