The Child Victims of Privatization

A new category of children has entered the ranks of the homeless -- those who specialists say lost their homes as a direct result of privatization. "In most cases their parents privatize and sell their apartments and drink away the profits," said Lyudmila Kontanistova, head of the younger children's division of the Moscow Reception and Distribution Center for Minors, where homeless, abandoned and runaway children are held before being returned to their parents or sent to state institutions. Nearly 30 children between the ages of 3 and 7 who were abandoned after losing their homes in this manner have passed through the center this year, Kontanistova said. The situation has led to the proposal of a new law that would require parents of minors to get permission from local authorities before selling their apartments, according to Valentina Teryokhina, deputy head of the Department of Social Rehabilitation of Minors at the Social Security Ministry. "The growth of the number of homeless children is absolutely tied to this problem," she said. Though statistics on homeless children in Russia are nonexistent, the number of children in state orphanages, which had been falling for several years, has begun rising. It is not a new problem. In the tumultuous period following the Bolshevik Revolution, the number of orphaned and abandoned children, multiplied by the ravages of civil war and famine, reached about 7 million by 1921. The fate of many of these bezprizorniki, who by the mid-1920s were roaming the countryside and city slums in armed gangs, remains unknown. Now only about 5 percent of the 76,000 children in orphanages and baby homes are actually parentless, according to specialists. The others were abandoned by their parents, who did not want them or were unable to care for them, or taken from parents who were deprived of their parental rights. Under the proposed law, parents would be required to include their children in any privatization papers. Those records would then alert municipal authorities to the presence of a minor. "No sale of an apartment would be permitted without inspection by the appropriate authorities, who would make sure that the child would have a place to live," Teryokhina said. She said that a similar provision existed in a Soviet code governing the sale of property, which was allowed in certain circumstances, but was not included in new privatization laws. "Of course this law won't solve the problem of homeless children as there's no law in the world that can do that," she said. "But it should decrease the number of children in this situation." Sasha, 4, and Polina, 8, were a typical pair. The brother and sister lived in a Moscow apartment until their mother, an alcoholic, privatized and sold the family's apartment, said Kontanistova. When the money was used up on alcohol, the mother and children lived on the streets. After leaving the children with another woman who agreed to look after them for a day, the mother disappeared. The children were taken to the city center for minors. "It's a typical story," said Kontanistova, who said she believes the proposed law will help protect children's rights.