Russia has experienced turbulent times since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Small sections of society have enjoyed great prosperity thanks to the country’s wealth of natural resources, including oil and natural gas. At the same time, the majority of Russians have experienced great hardships – poverty, unemployment, hyper-inflation, the collapse of the welfare system.
It is the children of Russia who have suffered the most from this situation. As people struggle to cope with the hardships of life in post-Soviet Russia, many turn to drink, drugs and crime, forgetting about their parental responsibilities.
Millions of children have ended up fending for themselves as their parents became unable to care for them; many end up on the streets, others in poorly funded, outdated state institutions. Current estimates state that there are over one million street children in Russia, and there are countless more who remain at home, living in conditions akin to those on the streets.
These children find themselves abandoned by the society they live in – by their parents, their relatives, the welfare system, the government… Many have literally no one to turn to, and no idea of how to deal with the complex problems they face, and take some positive steps in their lives. The huge majority end up with a wide range of problems – Russia has extremely high levels of alcoholism, drug addiction, truancy, substance abuse, crime, prostitution, HIV/AIDS and suicide amongst young people.
A UN report called Russian children “an endangered species.” With fewer babies being born (more than 1/3 to single mothers), 400,000 children living in institutions and an orphanage system that does nothing to prepare these children for successful adulthood, there are few programs in place to change the crisis.
When orphans graduate at age 18 to make their way in the world, more than half are recruited to a life of crime or prostitution, 10% commit suicide, 30% are addicted to alcohol and other drugs during their first year of living independently. This data is from Russian governmental sources, which are often under-reported.