Orphans in Russia face mass abuse

RUSSIA'S STATE-RUN orphanages are subjecting tens of thousands of children to what it calls "an appalling level of abuse", according to the group Human Rights Watch.

In a report published yesterday, the New York-based organisation says thousands of Russia's 200,000 orphaned or abandoned children are subjected to sexual and physical abuse by staff and older children, undergo hideous punishments, and are kept under a regime of strong sedatives.

The report's author, Kathleen Hunt, said the worst-off were the 30,000 children incarcerated in homes for the disabled. Many, she said, were kept locked in dark rooms, tied down, straitjacketed, orsimply left in their beds permanently.

The report said that staff members encouraged abuse by older children, locked children in freezing rooms for days, made them stand in the snow, and punished would-be run-aways by sending them to psychiatric hospitals. Some children simply died of malnourishment, she said.

Ms Hunt insisted that not all staff she had encountered were unkind to children. "Some of the women looking after them do show compassion and concern," she said, "but they suffer from a lack of training."

She said the abysmal conditions described in the report were not simply the result of Russia's economic collapse, but reflected a prejudice against the mentally ill and the disabled.

Ms Hunt said almost half the 15,000 children released each year from the state orphanages end up homeless. Most of these drift into crime, alcoholism or drug addiction.

The organisation called on Russian officials to stop encouraging parents to surrender disabled children to the state, and urged that children's mental states be diagnosed after extensive observation and not in single sessions, as is the usual practice.

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