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The director or a teacher does not always punish the children directly. They can get the older kids to punish the other kids. One of our teachers would just say, "Okay, now you two fight each other! They could do this for punishment, maybe, but also for amusement.18

Or for pure sadism. Sadism.19


Like most of the baby houses in Russia, some of the orphanages run by the Education Ministry for school-aged children have been the beneficiaries of charitable donations since 1991 and have seen significant improvements in furnishings, clothing and supplies. These improvements were corroborated during Human Rights Watch's mission to Russia, through extensive research and interviews with six Russian children's advocates, four orphanage teachers, and thirty-one Russian orphans, who represented at least seventeen dyetskiye doma of the Ministry of Education. We also interviewed a Western journalist who had visited five dyetskiye doma six baby houses and three internaty.

The orphans and their teachers we interviewed resided in institutions in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and a third town some miles north of the capital. In Moscow, we arranged our interviews through local children’s rights advocates who had collected the orphans’ initial testimonies of abuse at the hands of several orphanage staff. We interviewed four teenaged children and two vospitateli from Orphanage A, and a girl from Orphanage M.

In St. Petersburg, a different independent children’s rights advocate informed us of particularly abusive orphanages in that city and its environs. Based on that information, Human Rights Watch made an unannounced visit to a group of orphans aged fifteen to seventeen who had “graduated” from a variety of local dyetskiye doma in the area and were taking vocational training until the age of eighteen. They resided in a large state-run dormitory—Dormitory X—which wevisited three times. In the course of those visits, Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with fifteen boys in a group setting, and seven individually.

The third group of teenaged orphans Human Rights Watch interviewed were referred to us through children’s rights advocates in Moscow who had received reports of their grievances from a sympathetic child welfare worker in their region north of Moscow. Also aged fifteen to seventeen and taking vocational training, the orphans in that region had been diagnosed as debil or “lightly oligoprhenic,” in the state orphanage system and raised in institutions run by the Ministry of Education for children with mild disabilities. We interviewed about ten of them in a group setting, along with two vospitateli who were unusually active in informing these children of their rights under Russian law and attempting to appeal their stigmatizing diagnosis of oligophrenia.

Human Rights Watch concluded that the standard orphanages run by the Russian Education Ministry were relatively clean, with only two to three beds per room, and provided adequate food. The children had access to a local public school and sometimes even had extracurricular activities in the dyetskii dom.20

Yet from our investigation, a dark tableau of abuse, dereliction of responsibility, and gratuitous cruelty also emerged. Orphanages for school-aged children breed their own genre of brutalizing punishment. It is distinct from the discipline found in the baby houses or the internaty, but well known in the Russian bastions of gang-rule: the military and the GULAG prisons.

First, Human Rights Watch received reports that adult staff members of Russian orphanages had abused children by:

· slapping or striking them

· shoving their heads in the toilet

· squeezing a hand in a vise

· squeezing testicles while interrogating them

· stripping their clothes off in front of peers

· locking them in a freezing, unheated room for days

· engaging them in sexual relations

· sending them to a psychiatric institute to punish them for misdeeds such as attempting to run away.21

Secondly, Human Rights Watch heard reports that older or stronger orphans, goaded by the adult staff had maliciously abused younger or weaker ones by such measures as:

· beating them on the neck, forehead and cheeks

· throwing them out the window in a wooden chest

· wiring a metal bed to electricity and shocking a child forced to lie on it

· forcing a child to beg or steal for them.22

The variations on acts of corporal and psychological punishment fell into two broad patterns. In the first instance, adult staff members, with the informal consent of the orphanage director, strike and humiliate children. Then, in an elaborate version of this direct abuse, the adults engage other orphans with them to punish a child "collectively."

For children who hardly have a positive alternative social role model from the world beyond the institution, the orphanage staff set an unconscionable example of degrading discipline. In doing so, the adults helped reinforce a survival-of-the-fittest hierarchy among the orphans, which they fostered in a second pattern to control and punish children by proxy.

This proxy pattern was particularly insidious because the favored children, delegated to "govern" like minor feudal lords, developed a repertoire of vicious and injurious punishments which the older, stronger orphans inflicted upon the younger or weaker ones. In Russian, this is known by its familiar colloquial term "dyedovshchina," or hazing, which is taken from military slang; it was not surprising to Human Rights Watch when orphans in St. Petersburg spontaneously used dyedovshchina to describe the gratuitous violence in orphanage life.

It is worth remembering that this practice of hazing as a means of internal control is understood by Russians as malicious and even deadly; it is not to be confused with the typical roughhousing among fraternity brothers at universities in the United States. A brief catalogue of frequently used punishments appears later in this chapter.

As the testimonies herein depict, orphanages for school-aged children in Russia violate the essential tenets of international human rights law, which prohibit cruel,inhuman and degrading treatment, and guarantee the right to live in dignity.23 Moreover, while it offers children a nominal public school education, the state orphanage system fails to prepare them for the responsibilities of creating homes and families, and finding a decent place in society.24

While numerous experts interviewed by Human Rights Watch stressed their alarm at the lack of appropriate social training to prepare institutionalized children for life as adults on their own, 25 the evidence assembled here shows that state orphanage system does acquaint children with the pecking order of the streets. Indeed one orphan told Human Rights Watch that he planned to be a "vor v zakonye" (Russian mafiya boss) some day, while he was flanked by two meeker looking orphans whose admiration was apparent.26

Several boys in the St. Petersburg dormitory we visited told Human Rights Watch matter of factly that they made their pocket money by picking pockets in the market.27 One of them said plainly, "We all learn to steal," as he showed us some rooms with considerable furnishings that he and his friends had stolen from shops while distracting salespeople.28

One of the reports that we found most disturbing from the orphans we interviewed in Moscow and St. Petersburg was the psychological abuse with which the adults infused their discipline. "Humiliation" was the word the children we interviewed repeated like an intrusive memory—from the denigrating curses that staff members use, to public shaming in the presence of their teenaged peers. Further, children who had grown up in one St. Petersburg dyetskii dom reported to Human Rights Watch that their director had encouraged orphans to ridicule certain children as homosexual, thereby reinforcing an intolerance that runs deep in Russian society.

Although knowledgeable people we interviewed knew of dyetskiye doma where physical and psychological abuse were not routine, the findings in this report call attention to discernible patterns detailed to us by people living and working in some institutions. Moreover, their testimonies, which included cases of sexual abuse and institutional corruption, signaled the need for a thorough, independent investigation across the Russian Federation.

Russian children’s rights activists and an attorney we interviewed shared the concern of international child welfare experts that far more abuse takes place in institutions run by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labor and Social Development than ever gets reported. One expert told Human Rights Watch that the several reports we received about official action taken against abusive orphanage staff were “definitely the exception,” and that:

I have no doubt that abuse is going on in places far from Moscow that we will never hear about. There is no standard means for children in institutions to make a confidential complaint about abuse by staff. 29

A leading Russian children’s rights expert based in Moscow also told Human Rights Watch that the only way for many orphans in the more remote regions of Russia to expose abuse in their dyetskii dom is to run away from it and report it. She continued:

Most of the dyetskiye doma are fully closed institutions, and almost no one gets access to them. No NGOs, no private citizens, only government control. Even children living in homes do not complain to officials when they are abused by their parents because they feel ashamed about it and they are scared and do not know what they can do. The orphans live in isolation. They do not know their own human rights and rights in general. They get a very bad education and no one gives them information about the structure of society.30

Furthermore, a Russian lawyer who is experienced in juvenile law told Human Rights Watch that even some children’s advocates felt a disincentive to talk about abuses in the dyetskyei doma, because they need to maintain a working relationship with the orphanage directors in order to obtain information for legal cases they prepare on behalf of the children. Some advocates fear that they would lose the directors’ cooperation if they were to expose abuses.31

In sum, one of the great impediments that children’s advocates face in attempting to glean a picture of Russian state institutions is the lack of access and the de facto reliance on the few children who escape and seek out some independent nongovernmental group or even the Russian media, to report the abuse in their orphanages. The interviews conducted for this report indicated that children in orphanages tolerated a certain level of neglect and abuse. The cases that reached the stage of official investigation in Moscow and St. Petersburg involved particularly egregious offenses or repetitious cruelty that prompted children or sympathetic staff members to seek out known human rights advocates or outlets in the mass media.32

Adult perpetrators of crimes against children in their care must be prosecuted under Russian law, which provides criminal penalties for those who endanger the welfare of a minor. And the system encouraging minors to inflict abuse upon each other must be dismantled.

Corporal punishment by orphanage director and staff

In order to speak candidly with school-aged orphans in Moscow, Human Rights Watch arranged to meet a group of four teenagers in the apartment of a former member of their orphanage staff who had supported the children’s complaints about abuses in their dyetskii dom. We shall call it Orphanage A. Our meeting was organized through the leading children's rights group in Moscow, Rights of the Child, which had learned of frequent corporal punishment by staff members. In our individual interview with Masha K., sixteen, she told us that as in baby houses and internaty, abandoned children in dyetskiye doma who had no parents were more likely to be mistreated:

That teacher in my orphanage was a very cruel woman. She used to work in a kolonia [prison] for kids and really loved to beat up children. That was hermethod with me. She'd catch me by my hair. There was another girl in my class whom the teacher would grab by the hair and bang her head against the wall. That girl also had no parents. There were very poor children there, and we had refugee kids, too. The director was very energetic as a director, but as a person—terrible.33

Human Rights Watch conducted a separate interview with Kirina G. from the same orphanage. Small boned and slender, Kirina G. told us that she had been abandoned at birth, and spent the first three years of her life in a baby house before being transferred to Orphanage A where she has lived ever since. Kirina G. also described how the staff of her present orphanage treated children without parents more harshly, knowing that there was no one who would complain:

“When I was little, Svetlana Petrovna put my head in the toilet and beat me on the behind, hips, and arms. At first she would hit me on my hand—that was while I was small, until I was nine years old. After that she could take a slipper and slap us on the lips. Of course, a kid couldn't do anything or say anything. We were so afraid of her.

“They could put you in the bedroom and make you stay there. They also kept food from you to punish you, too. Right now it's the staff that's the worst thing about life here—especially Svetlana Petrovna. She's been here six or seven years. There are about six or seven staff who are about the same.”34

In another individual interview with a girl from Moscow Orphanage A, Irina V., we were told what she witnessed in their orphanage:

I saw what happened to Kirina G. She was very afraid of the group vospitatel’ and would lie to her about her grades. Svetlana Petrovna said, “If you lie to me again, I’ll put fekali [excrement ] in your mouth.” She lied the next time and Svetlana Petrovna beat her all over. Her lip was bleeding.

Svetlana Petrovna also once put Valentin T.’s head in the toilet. It was summer 1994 when we were on vacation and we went to the summer camp.Valentin T. left and went into the neighborhood near us and Svetlana Petrovna took him to the outhouse and—as he said—she put his head in the toilet.

She also did this with Julia B. That was last November (1997). One evening Julia B. came back a little drunk and decided to go to the teacher and tell her what she thought of her. The teacher took her to the shower and physically put her head in the toilet.35

Dmitri P., fifteen, lived with his family until the age of thirteen, and has since lived in Moscow Orphanage A as well. He told Human Rights Watch:

I see kids punished almost every day. Slapped. Kids could be humiliated verbally with words that are too bad to say. I personally haven't been punished physically by the teacher, but I have been punished verbally.36

Like nearly all Russian children, Dmitri P. became too embarrassed in front of foreign visitors to pronounce the "bad words" used to humiliate them, including the young children. One of the others from his orphanage agreed to write the following list for Human Rights Watch: pizdiuk (cunt), pridurok (jerk, said very angrily), suka (vulgar term for bitch), and kozyol (literally, "goat;" but in the prison world, it is the worst possible insult to Russians, connoting "passive homosexual").

In St. Petersburg’s Dormitory X which we visited, children we interviewed told of excessive physical punishment as well. One child from Orphanage C described to Human Rights Watch how the director and a teacher in his orphanage severely punished a boy named Mitya K. for the alleged theft of humanitarian aid received by the orphanage:

The director and the teacher locked Mitya K. in the hardware storage room of our orphanage, and then put his hand in a vise and turned it. He experienced a lot of pain, and they had to send him to the hospital by emergency ambulance.37

Another boy from Orphanage C told Human Rights Watch that, "The director grabbed me by the balls and squeezed while he was asking me questions."38

Isolation in a frigid room

Anya D., sixteen, from Moscow, had been put in Orphanage M by her parents, and later got them to take her home after complaining of the physical abuse taking place there. But in 1996, in the midst of the real estate boom in Moscow, her mother sold her four-room apartment and moved to a rural area in the surrounding region. "My mother's an alcoholic, and she claims she put 40 million rubles (about $8,000 at the time) in a bank account for me and my brother, but it's not true. I'm from Moscow, and I didn't want to live out there, so I came here."39

Human Rights Watch interviewed Anya D. at a small, privately run refuge for runaways in Moscow, where she described Orphanage M where she had lived from the time she was eight to eleven years old. She told us how the staff punished orphans who tried to run away:

There was a punishment there: they would put kids for two to three days in a freezing cold room with no food and lock the door. It was on the third floor at the end of the building. They would lock the door from the outside. There was no heating there.

They warned us, if you escape, we'll put you in the “komnata” [the room]. There was a boy who was eleven years old, who ran away for a day. He was caught outside and brought back and put in the cold room. The vospitatel' put him in the room. I saw them going there. Two men dragged the boy. He was resisting, and crying, of course.

He was in there for two days, only wearing his indoor clothes and slippers on his feet. When he came out, he was freezing. I can even say that he couldn't think clearly. He was crying. When his parents came, he told them everything, and they applied to the court. I don't know what happened after that.40

Other children in Orphanage M were similarly confined to the unheated isolation room during the Moscow winters, as Anya D. recalled:

One girl went in because she was rude to the vospitatel'. We were watching TV, and the girl said something and had an argument with the vospitatel'. The vospitatel' said, “If you're going to argue with me, you'll go into the room.”

So they started to fight with each other and the girl swore at the vospitatel'. Then the vospitatel' grabbed her and pulled her to the room, and left her in there for five days. It was winter. She was really pale.41

In another instance, teachers struck students for answering questions incorrectly, according to Anya D.:

If you give a wrong answer in class, they can hit you with a stick. I was eleven and got hit fifteen or twenty times. This wasn't when I misbehaved, but when I gave a wrong answer to my lessons. It went on the whole time I was there. We had five teachers and two were nice, three were bad.42

Corporal punishment sharpened by public shaming

Kiril V.’s Story

In February 1997, a young Moscow teenager we shall call Kiril V. accused staff members of Orphanage A of stealing yogurt that was intended for the orphans, and then grabbed a couple of yogurt containers and ran off to another part of the building.43

In an interview with another orphan, whose testimony was corroborated in a separate interview with a teacher from the orphanage, Human Rights Watch was told that Kiril V. was punished for stealing the yogurts by three members of the staff—the psychologist, the teacher of household tasks, and the deputy director of the orphanage. Together they threw him out a window on the first floor of theorphanage.44 Another teacher on the staff witnessed it, and sought help from the Moscow advocacy group, Rights of the Child, in filing a complaint.45

Kiril V.’s story continues, because he complained to the director about being thrown out the window by the staff. His subsequent punishment exemplifies the peculiar practice of publicly shaming children by stripping them or exposing them in some way to their peers, as orphans in both Moscow and St. Petersburg told us. Public shaming was a recurring motif in our interviews conducted with some thirty-one children housed by the Russian Ministry of Education. In the following testimony, a fifteen-year-old orphan in Moscow named Masha K. told Human Rights Watch how she witnessed Kiril V.’s public mortification in Orphanage A:

I was having a German class with a group of five kids when Kiril V. came into the room. It was a big room—and maybe the teacher who is in charge of him had learned that he had complained to the director about being thrown out the window. She walked in after him and said, “You don't have any right to complain about goods. You're wearing German stuff (donations). You don't like it? I'm the one who gets it for you.”

Kiril’s very small, and she grabbed him and she took off all his clothes—his briefs, too. Because all the clothes were donated by the German group. He was naked. And she threw the stuff out. He cried because he was very ashamed and so upset and confused. After that she called all the kids together to a meeting to make an announcement. You know it's a tradition for us to call her “Mom”—even though we don't mean it for affection—and she told Kiril, “From now on you can't call me Mom. You don't deserve to.”46

Such public humiliation appears to have been a signature punishment in this Moscow orphanage for years. Irina V., sixteen, recalls another incident involving the same staff member:

It was at the summer camp about four years ago when Kirina G. tried to smoke. To punish her, Svetlana Petrovna dragged her in her panties only, to the boy's shower to humiliate her.47

"Collective Punishment"

Human Rights Watch heard reports of even more elaborate rituals of wanton cruelty in our meetings and interviews with about fifteen teenaged orphan boys taking vocational training at a Pedagogical Technical Directorate (PTU) in St. Petersburg. The boys had "graduated" from seven Ministry of Education dyetskiye doma in and around St. Petersburg, and described a barrage of violence at the hands of their orphanage directors and staff throughout their childhood.

Children who had spent time in Orphanage C recounted to us how a teacher used the punishment of stripping to convey a stern warning to the others:

The teacher would punish children by bringing everyone into the classroom, and then making the ones who did something wrong get undressed and stand in front of the open window when it was very cold. Several children would be stripped and have to stand like that while the others had to watch the child in front of the window as a threat.48

Piotr C., who had lived in Orphanage C, told Human Rights Watch about a teacher in that orphanage who would grab a girl or boy and force him or her to crawl on all fours in front of everyone. Then she would make the others join in on it:

For punishment, a teacher named Alexandra Kalugina would strip off a child's clothes until he was completely nude, and make him get down on all fours. Then the rest of the children had to kick the child and sit on him like a horse—to humiliate him. The kids could push and kick and pull hair and ride him like an animal. She was an active sadist.49

Piotr C. told us that this same staff member later ordered children to punish another child, which resulted in that child’s injury. That incident was reported andshe left the orphanage.50 Based on the reports received from these children and those interviewed in Moscow, many abuses go unreported, but some extreme incidents, especially causing injury to a child, have been punished.51

Nikita M., also from St. Petersburg, complained to Human Rights Watch about the constant ridicule he suffered from his orphanage director at Orphanage B, who, according to others from the same institution, told the children that Nikita was gay. The boy himself did not go into details, except to say:

I was crying a lot of the time, because the director was shaming me. It was very tough for me, because he was trying to humiliate me and isolate me from other children.52

Murky areas of misconduct founded on humiliation of this kind were impossible for Human Rights Watch to corroborate case by case. However, we were alarmed by the level of detail and consistency in the testimonies taken from children in different cities, interviewed individually, and by their apparent role as a prelude to overt physical punishment.

For instance, in further interviews with other children who had lived in Orphanage B one child described to us the progression from verbal abuse to physical violence against Nikita M., seventeen, whom the director alleged to be homosexual:

The director suspected Nikita of being “malchik-devochka” [passive homosexual] and this was why the director hated him. He was very aggressive to him and accused him in front of the other kids of being homosexual. One time the director told me that he saw Nikita with another boy playing "house," and Nikita was playing the passive role. The way the director told me, Nikita was asking the other kid to play the game and wanted the boy to play the father and Nikita would play the mother.

Now, then there was some humanitarian aid we received and it was stolen in the orphanage. So the director decided to check the classrooms, in case it was the kids who stole it. While he was checking the rooms, he found Nikita and Sergei C. in a classroom and at that moment, Nikita was naked and masturbating. Sergei C. was dressed. The director told Nikita to put his clothes on and follow him to the study. Then the director told me to come in with them to be a witness.

So the director started to ask Nikita about this situation where he was naked with the other boy and Nikita started to cry. Then Nikita insulted the director who hit Nikita on the neck. Nikita cried some more and the director told both of us to leave.53

According to Pavel N., after the incident in the study, Nikita filed a complaint against the director. To this, the director of the orphanage called a meeting of the orphans aged twelve to fourteen years, to validate his actions against Nikita and to enlist the orphans to punish Nikita for him:

The director told to us that every time he punished Nikita it was "za delo" [for a real reason]. Nikita was there and he was crying. Then the director told us, “I can't punish Nikita, but you should do what you think you should” and left the room. When he left, the kids—the lyubimchiki [“favorites”]—pushed Nikita into a corner and hit him on the arms and the legs. Nikita shouted loudly enough that the director could have heard him from the hallway, but he did nothing. Finally one of the teachers heard the noise and came and stopped the violence.54

Punishment-by-proxy and vicious hazing

The progression from verbal debasement to beatings instigated by adults provided a graphic illustration of the practice of punishment by proxy which was repeatedly described to Human Rights Watch. In the process, the orphans learned a code of cruelty which the older children used against the younger and weaker ones. At times, the children told us, the staff pitted them against each other fortheir own entertainment.55 In any case, the orphanage staff must bear direct responsibility for allowing the abusive treatment to flourish.

Many of the punishments meted out by St. Petersburg children themselves had ironic nicknames, as Human Rights Watch was told by orphans interviewed in Dormitory X. Among the most egregious was a torture applied to a sixteen-year-old boy named Grigory Z., who told us how the older boys in his orphanage had given him the “electric chair”:

They did a torture called “electric chair” on me. I was laid on a metal bed, naked. Then someone takes wires that are connected to 220 volt electricity and touches the metal bed. The power runs through it and the kid lying on the bed shakes.

Also, the older orphans used to play something called “Russkii Fashist” when I was small. They came to our dormitory where we were sleeping and told us to use our pillow like a shield and run around the room while they beat on us. They'd also tell kids, “You have to fight with your friend. And if you don't fight him really hard, or it doesn't look real enough, then we'll beat you up.”56

Another extremely dangerous practice which was reported to Human Rights Watch by children raised in St. Petersburg orphanages was the appalling act of forcing a smaller child into the small wooden chest [tumbochka] that they each have for their clothes and throwing him out a window. 57

One of the orphans interviewed in St. Petersburg described yet another gratuitous punishment that involved standing for hours in a half-crouch:

The older ones also punished the smaller kids like this: they'd make the small ones stand at attention, or with their legs bent and their hands stretched out in front. Then they'd put one or two pillows on our hands. We'd have to stand there for one to two hours. How can anyone take this without falling down? And when a small kid fell down or dropped the pillow, someone would hit himon his head and forehead. After that, they would start all over again until the child sometimes fainted.58

Hanging a fellow orphan from an open window was another form of intimidation among orphans interviewed by Human Rights Watch in St. Petersburg. Misha T., seventeen, said he was a victim:

The older kids held me and Anatoly Z. upside down out the window of the fourth floor, just to scare us. In our orphanage we called this kind of intimidation “in the wind.” 59

As training sessions for sadistic bullying, these gratuitous punishments can also become a conduit to crime, as Fyodor T., fifteen, told us:

The oldest kid in our orphanage was Anton M.—he's in prison now for theft. He beat me very often for refusing to steal some equipment from the hardware storage room of the school. He also beat me very cruelly when I wouldn't steal a walkie-talkie from a policeman. He demanded from me that I bring him money, and made me beg for money on the street and bring it to him. When I didn't do that, Anton M. beat me very cruelly.60

As in the Russian military, this form of violent hazing can lead to accidental death, as one orphan in St. Petersburg recounted to us with a degree of regret:

One boy named Piotr A. even was killed accidentally in my orphanage, Orphanage F, when some older kids made him steal eggs from the refrigerator. But the refrigerator was old and it had only three legs, so it fell over on top of him. The other boy who was with him was very scared and ran off, and didn't tell anyone about it all day. When they finally found Piotr A., he was dead.61

Code of Cruelty

The following are a selection of malicious punishments with their nicknames, used by older orphans on younger ones. They are described by the boys Human Rights Watch interviewed in St. Petersburg during February and March 1998:

“Makaronina” (“little macaroni”): They make you rock your head to the left and right, and while you do that, someone strikes each side of your neck.

“Fashka” (no real translation): You have to fill your cheek with air and someone hits you on the cheek. It's very painful because your teeth cut the inside of your cheek.

“Locya” (“deer”): You have to stand with your palms crossed, facing out, on your forehead. And someone beats you with his fist. Your knuckles hit your forehead. It's very painful.

“Oduvanchik” (“dandelion”): In this one, the older kids beat with their fists on top of head of younger ones.

“Velociped” (“bicycle”; well known in the army): When someone's in bed, you take balls of cotton and put them between their toes. Then you set fire to the cotton and the person kicks his legs as if he's peddling a bicycle.

Psychiatric hospital as punishment

One of the most abhorrent hallmarks of the Soviet Union was the psychiatric profession's collaboration in the punishment of political dissidents.62 Today, based on an alarming number of reports from orphans and institution staff, Human Rights Watch has found that children in the care of the Ministry of Education who misbehave can be sent to closed psychiatric hospitals for "treatment" and discipline. The children even used the sardonic diminutive "psykhushka" for such hospitals, a holdover from Soviet times.63

During one of our visits to the dormitory of orphans who had lived in a variety of St. Petersburg dyetskiye doma, we asked them what the staff of their orphanages did when children ran away. Several of them instantly replied, "They're sent to the psykhushka! They think you're abnormal for running away so they send you there."64

One of the boys, Piotr C., told Human Rights Watch:

When I was in Orphanage C, the administrator sent me many times to the psykhushka for punishment. I tried to run away to the region where I had lived before.65

In Moscow, the teenaged children from Orphanage A whom we interviewed echoed what we were told in St. Petersburg about children who tried to run away, or even about children who broke something. According to Dimitri P., fifteen, the staff of Orphanage A would "yell at you and send you to a psychiatric hospital."66

"I was told about many kids from other groups in my orphanage, They call the hospital and an emergency car comes. I've seen the ambulance come for a kid three times with my own eyes. And then I'd hear about it when the child comes back from the hospital."67

A vospitatel' from that same orphanage in Moscow also told us how he had tried to intervene to prevent a child from being sent:

I twice had to accompany them in the emergency vehicle to psychiatric hospital Number 6 on Donskoi Proezd. And once, around October orNovember 1997, a car came to get a child and we managed to protect him from being taken.68

According to orphans and children's rights advocates who monitor the Education Ministry's institutions, the children return from their internment in the “psykhushka” in a terrible state. Dmitri P., fifteen, from Orphanage A in Moscow, described it as follows:

They really feel withdrawn, isolated. Because they've been there for two or three months. Some come back to normal. But they get drugs—round pills—to calm down. I don't remember the name of the drugs now. The kids, after they come back from the hospital they've had drugs, and they're very confused.

They can spend three months there. In summer kids would go to camp and our friend Kiril V. would spend all the time at the hospital. They lied to him that he was going to a sanitorium and so he packed his swim suit and everything for a vacation. Then he found out he was going to the hospital.69

Human Rights Watch condemns the use of psychiatric lockups and powerful drugs to discipline children whose behavior is deemed "abnormal" by institution staff. But it is also impossible to know to what degree the children sent to psychiatric hospitals do have a need for legitimate psychiatric care. Dr. Anatoly Severny, one of the leading Russian advocates for the protection of institutionalized children, told Human Rights Watch that one cannot conclude that all children are systematically committed to psychiatric hospitals simply for punishment:

Breaking the rules of behavior can be seen by an orphanage director as a psychological or psychiatric problem. But what can they do? They're not provided with enough medical staff and educational staff, and the personnel are not taught either biology or pedagogy. So, children are sent to the psychiatric clinic to calm down. As a doctor, I can't say it's a "system" to treat healthy children that way. You would need wide-scale research so we would know how and where and what they do. But nobody does this research. We'revery scared to say "generally." But the children are certainly singled out if their behavior is not "normal."70

The use of psychiatric hospitals to discipline children who misbehave was corroborated by a Western charity working in Russia whose staff visited the orphanages in St. Petersburg during autumn 1997. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, an official of the charity recounted the words of one orphanage director which summarized these harmful practices. The charity worker reported to Human Rights Watch:

This is what the director told me: “One child was sent to the psychiatric hospital last fall (1997). The girl ran away, so obviously she was psychologically disturbed. We sent her away last fall and she hasn't come back so I guess she really does have problems. Another one had a behavior problem. He didn't do his homework. He hasn't come back.”71

Based on considerable experience working in Russia, the charity official told Human Rights Watch, "They really do fill [the orphans] up with drugs."72

Corruption, abuse of authority, and alleged crime

During our mission to Russia in February-March 1998, Human Rights Watch received numerous reports from human rights activists and children from orphanages in Moscow and St. Petersburg alleging abuse of authority and financial corruption among the directors and staff of dyetskiye doma.

Of all the cases, Human Rights Watch was most alarmed by reports we received about Dormitory X in St. Petersburg. According to orphans interviewed in that high-rise dormitory, the children who had reached the age of eighteen and not yet obtained lodging from the state, were permitted to move from the “orphan” floor of the dorm to live temporarily on another floor. One of the orphans we interviewed summarized the conditions on that floor as follows:

It's horrible there. They call it the "otstoinik," which means the reservoir where the rancid water stays. The kids live like homeless people, and theyspent the allowance we get when we leave the system on "sexodromes" [huge beds].73

At the time of our unannounced visit to Dormitory X in February 1998, the building itself was a crumbling, concrete wreck with a rattling elevator and empty light sockets. But the floor delegated for the "graduates" was particularly squalid.74

The orphans interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that the director of Dormitory X permitted older adult males from outside to live in vacant rooms in the building. The children had observed that some of these people were the directors’ friends and had reportedly made advances to the girls living in the “otstoinik.” The orphans we interviewed, who were friends of the girls in the “otstoinik,” told Human Rights Watch that the girls were in a “complex” position to turn down the men's advances, because of their connection with the director.75

Yuri T., a seventeen-year-old orphan, told us:

When the police come to look for something criminal, the director takes them only to the floors where we [the current orphans] live, and makes a signal to the criminal guys on the lower floors so they escape through the windows there.76

Many of the incidents of misconduct by orphanage staff which were reported to Human Rights Watch were not as injurious as the potential corruption of minors in Dormitory X in St. Petersburg. But they did represent an appalling abrogation of responsibility to the children in their care. Often orphans told Human Rights Watch in interviews that the director and orphanage staff were siphoning off humanitarian donations of food and clothing intended for the orphans. Valery P.’s story of Orphanage G. in St. Petersburg was representative:

The administration of our orphanage constantly took the humanitarian donations for themselves and sold them. Especially chocolate and other food. They stole it, and they used big trucks for transferring the large quantity of things. All the children saw this. All of us got the worst things from the administration—like shoes and clothes that looked so poor that we just couldn't wear them outside.77

Grievances and impunity

One of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch in St. Petersburg was Alexander Rodin, a former member of the city council and independent children's advocate who has exposed the abuses in orphanages and juvenile detention centers for more than eight years.

While Rodin considered the criminal action against the directors of Orphanages B and C in St. Petersburg to be important victories, he pointed out to us the mixed benefits for the children:

The director of orphanage C was an ex-Soviet military officer, and he was sentenced to a one-year term. But now the new director of this orphanage is a friend of the former director, and the St. Petersburg officials have changed the orphanage’s status to an institution for juvenile delinquents.78

Rodin went on to stress the importance of an orphanage director's power, not only to commit abuses, but also to cover them up:

The problem with all the institutions is that the director hires all the personnel. That means that doctors and nurses are required to write papers according to what the director wants. So if something is done by the director, they can't report it because they will be fired. Also if a kid has to go to a local medical center for an injury, he brings the records back and the director keeps them all. He can destroy them, hiding any chance of implicating the staff.79

In interviews with thirty-one orphans and experts in Russia, Human Rights Watch found that the fear of retribution was only one deterrent to exposing abuses within the institutions. For instance, ignorance of grievance procedures also stand in the way of many children we interviewed, as does the doubt that much will come of their complaints anyway:

We really don't know about the channels and mechanisms for changing things. If we knew what mechanism there was we would use it. We tried to protect the small kids at our place when the staff took their fruit away. We wrote a letter and sent one copy to the director and one to the municipal department. Well, of course, the municipal department told us, “You didn't catch anyone doing it. So you saw someone doing this, but you didn't catch anyone.”80

Once we called for a TV crew to come, and they interviewed us and we answered their questions. The teachers were busy when they arrived, so the crew went with us and interviewed kids personally. It helped a little, but not so much. Some high officials saw it on TV and asked a high official named Zernova what was going on. So because those top officials yelled at her, she came to the orphanage and talked to the staff, and it helped a little. Before, they would really yell and humiliate us, and not even think about who was around. Now they say things to us only after they look around to see who's there. They're more careful with yelling and humiliation.81

The financial interest in orphanages

Financial interests were also a recurrent theme in the critiques Human Rights Watch received of Russian state orphanages. The government blames its lack of resources for its inability to train and pay for qualified staff, while critics, including some institution staff, claim that it is more a matter of misappropriation of the current budget.

One doctor summarized what Human Rights Watch heard from numerous knowledgeable people working in institutions:

It's a very expensive system. But the child only gets 25 percent of all the funds that are allocated. Seventy-five percent goes to keeping the system going. For instance, a Ministry of Labor official recently told a roundtable gathering in January (1998) that they budget 2,500 rubles ($400) per child per month in the orphanage.

But we know from colleagues who work in internaty that they spend only from 500 to 600 rubles ($100) a month specifically on the care of each child. So when I went to the Ministry of Labor to confirm how much was spent on children, they refused to say. But I heard myself at the roundtable [conference] that they budget 2,500 rubles.82

A psychiatrist working in an internat corroborated Dr. Severny's calculations with the following report:

We are supposed to spend on each child 17 rubles (three U.S. dollars) a day for food and 1.7 rubles for medicine.83

The psychiatrist also told Human Rights Watch that the actual number of staff they are budgeted for on her service is kept "top secret," and only the administrator knows the figure.84

The potential for financial mismanagement concerning the state pension accounts for orphans is another matter that concerns children's rights advocates, as Dr. Anatoly Severny summarized for us:

Starting from the age of sixteen years, the children in the psychoneurological internaty get a pension from the state because they're considered officially as invalids. This is supposed to be used for their care in the internat. But where does the pension go? There's a legal problem. By law the court can rule a person not capable of taking care of himself. Officially, they don't have legal rights to manage their own affairs like a pension.

So, on one hand the state gives the pension. But we don't see where that money goes. That's one reason the ministries want to maintain the system as it is. The ministries receive a huge amount of money.85


Human Rights Watch condemns the use of violent punishment—physical or psychological, whether administered by officials or children acting at their behest—of children in institutions operated by the Ministry of Education. Moreover, rather than condoning or turning a blind eye to the savage hazing among school-aged orphans within some institutions, the Russian authorities are obliged to protect the children it has accepted in its custody. They must halt all forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment immediately, investigate existing reports of corruption and other wrongdoing, and further conduct unannounced investigations in distant regions where few children’s rights activists are available to advocate on behalf of abused orphans.

In the following section of this report, Part VIII, we present some recent progress as well as systemic impediments relevant to the future protection of orphans' rights in Russia.

18 Human Rights Watch interview, Yegor P., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998. (The names of all orphans cited in this chapter have been changed to protect their identities.)

19 Human Rights Watch interview, Yuri T., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

20 Human Rights Watch interviews, Moscow, February 20, 1998; St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

21 Human Rights Watch interview, orphans, Moscow, February 20, 1998, March 2, 1998; orphans, St. Petersburg, February 27, 28, March 1, 1998.

22 Human Rights Watch interviews, orphans, St. Petersburg, February 27, 29, 1998.

23 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, GA Res. 2200 A (XXI) Dec. 16, 1966, March 23, 1976, Articles 4(2) and 7; U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, GA res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49), Article 37(a); Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, GA res. 3452 (XXX), Dec. 9, 1975.

24 Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Anatoly Severny, February 12, 1998; vospitatel', Moscow, February 20, 1998; vospitatel' in region north of Moscow, March 5, 1998, among others.

25 Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Anatoly Severny, February 12, 1998; Dr. Tatiana Moroz, February 12, 1998; Boris Altshuler, February 16, 1998.

26 Human Rights Watch interview, orphan, St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

27 Human Rights Watch interview, orphans, St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

28 Human Rights Watch interview, Yegor P., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

29 Human Rights Watch interview, international child welfare expert, Moscow, October 15, 1998.

30 Human Rights Watch interview, Lyubov Kushnir, October 15, 1998.

31 Human Rights Watch interview, Moscow attorney, February 1998.

32 Human Rights Watch interview, Boris Altshuler, February 16, 1998; children from Moscow Orphanage A; Lyubov Kushnir, February 23, 1998.

33 Human Rights Watch interview, Masha K., sixteen, February 20, 1998.

34 Human Rights Watch interview, Kirina G., February 20, 1998.

35 Human Rights Watch interview, Irina V., February 20, 1998.

36 Human Rights Watch interview, Dmitri P., Moscow, February 20, 1998.

37 Human Rights Watch interview, Piotr C., seventeen, St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

38 Human Rights Watch interview, orphan, St. Petersburg, March 1, 1998.

39 Human Rights Watch interview, Anya D., March 2, 1998.

40 Human Rights Watch interview, Anya D., Moscow, March 2, 1998.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid.

43 Human Rights Watch interview, Masha K., February 20, 1998.

44 Human Rights Watch interview, Irina V., Moscow, February 20, 1998.

45 Human Rights Watch interviews, orphanage teacher, Moscow, February 20, 1998; Rights of the Child, February 17, 1998.

46 Human Rights Watch interview, Masha K., February 20, 1998. Kiril V. was also sent to a psychiatric hospital as punishment when other children went to a summer camp, as reported below.

47 Human Rights Watch interview, Moscow, February 20, 1998.

48 Human Rights Watch interview, St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

49 Human Rights Watch interview, Piotr C., February 27, 1998.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Human Rights Watch interview, Nikita M., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998. This orphanage director was one of two we heard of in St. Petersburg whose particularly abusive treatment prompted complaints and criminal investigations. One of them was convicted and sentenced to a one year prison sentence, but problems persisted with his orphanage, as described by an independent children’s rights advocate later in this chapter.

53 Human Rights Watch interview, Pavel N., St. Petersburg, February 28, 1998.

54 Human Rights Watch interview, Pavel N., St. Petersburg, March 1, 1998.

55 Human Rights Watch interview, Yegor P., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

56 Human Rights Watch interview, Grigory Z., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

57 Human Rights Watch interview, Pavel N., St. Petersburg, February 27, 29, 1998.

58 Human Rights Watch interview, orphan, St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

59 Human Rights Watch interview, Misha T., St. Petersburg, March 3, 1998.

60 Human Rights Watch interview, Fyodor T., March 3, 1998.

61 Human Rights Watch interview, Yegor P., February 27, 1998.

62 Helsinki Watch, Psychiatric Abuse in the Soviet Union (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1990).

63 Human Rights Watch interviews, Moscow, February 20, 1998; St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

64 Human Rights Watch interview, Piotr C., Yegor P., Valery P., Yuri T.. St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

65 Human Rights Watch interview, St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

66 Human Rights Watch interview, Dmitri P., Moscow, February 20, 1998.

67 Ibid.

68 Human Rights Watch interview, orphanage staff member, Moscow, February 20, 1998.

69 Human Rights Watch interview, Dmitri P., Moscow, February 20, 1998.

70 Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Anatoly Severny, February 20, 1998.

71 Human Rights Watch interview, Western charity official, February 24, 1998.

72 Ibid.

73 Human Rights Watch interview, Yuri T., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

74 Time and circumstances did not permit us to conduct confidential interviews with the teenaged girls we encountered on our unannounced tour of the otstoinik.

75 Human Rights Watch interview, Yuri T., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

76 Human Rights Watch interview, Yuri T., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

77 Human Rights Watch interview, Valery P., St. Petersburg, February 27, 1998.

78 Human Rights Watch interview, March 6, 1998.

79 Human Rights Watch interview, February 26, 1998.

80 Human Rights Watch interview, Masha K., Moscow Orphanage A, February 20, 1998.

81 Ibid.

82 Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Anatoly Severny, February 12, 1998. Exchange rate as of February 1998.

83 Human Rights Watch report, Dr. Tatiana Moroz, February 16, 1998.

84 Ibid.

85 Ibid.

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