KYRGYZSTAN: Move to keep orphans out of institutions


Activists say that assisting foster families to care for orphans is the best chance of giving them a decent life

BISHKEK, 29 July 2008 (IRIN) - Civic organisations say that assisting foster families to care for orphans, rather than placing them in institutions where they can sometimes be abused, is the best chance of giving them a decent life.

“The special thing about such families [foster families] is that a child brought up in a temporary family has a chance of returning to his own family,” Nurjan Musaeva, an expert with the My Family non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, told IRIN.

It is better for children to live in a family environment than an orphanage, Musaeva said. “This will give the child a chance of healthy development.”

There are about 6,000 orphans in Kyrgyzstan (population 5.2 million), according to some specialists, social workers and the local news site.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Bishkek said 20 percent have no parents, but 80 percent are “social orphans” - children from problem families.

Ekaterina Khoroshman, head of the Issyk-Ata Centre for Support of Families and Children, a local NGO, said it was widely believed that children feel good in orphanages, as they have food, clothes and education and are always in the care of teachers. “But in fact this is not always true,” she said.

Institutional abuse

A recent UNICEF study entitled What Secrets Do the Walls Keep includes an interview with a girl, Lena, who lives in one of the orphanages in Bishkek.

“I have been living in this orphanage for several years. Teachers often beat us for disobedience,” Lena was quoted in the report as saying.

Roma, a boy from the same orphanage, said the staff often made children work in the houses of employees: “Girls wash dishes, floors and [orphanage workers’] clothes. Boys work in the gardens and do other hard work,” Roma said. “They do this to us because they know that nobody will stand up for us.”

To tackle the issue, the Kyrgyz authorities have embarked on a project to help foster families. “We believe this project may improve the situation with regard to protecting and taking care of orphan children,” Jainagul Iskakova from the Department for Protection of the Family and Children said.

According to UNICEF, when children leave orphanages at the age of 18 they are prone to various kinds of abuse - psychological, physical and sexual.

“Only a few leave well orientated and able to make a success of their lives; 65 percent end up in jail,” said Grebennikova of UNICEF.

Maripa Abdieva, head of social and gender policy at the Office of the President, said: “Many studies indicate that… blood ties are the most stable and strong. Therefore, first of all, it is the family that must receive social and economic support.”

“Children that leave orphanages… can be easily tricked into… involvement in organised crime. And this is a great threat to the state,” said Musaeva of the My Family NGO.

While there is legislation to protect the rights of children and orphans, it is not enforced, independent lawyer Nadezhda Alisheva said. “These laws must be properly implemented… Only when the rights of children are protected will the state itself develop effectively and rapidly,” she added.

UNICEF Communications Officer Olga Grebennikova said: “Currently, parents that leave their children in orphanages and boarding houses most frequently are labour migrants. When they leave for other countries to earn money, they often leave their children with these organisations.”

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