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Orphans and Abandoned Children

Throughout the world, an unknown number of children, most likely in the millions, were kept in orphanages and other non-penal institutions in 1998. Many of these children were placed in grossly substandard facilities and were provided with inhumane care; many were left to die. Ironically, the personnel of the very state institutions that were responsible for nurturing and providing for the children often physically and sexually abused children in their care, and subjected them to other cruel and degrading treatment. Even in institutions that were clean and provided adequate food, staff often neglected children, leaving them to lie alone in cribs or small beds with no stimulation, no play, and no adult attention.

Human Rights Watch has looked into the treatment of children in orphanages in three countries: Romania, China, and Russia. In Ceaucescu’s Romania, we found in 1990 that doctors forbidden to acquire medical information from outside the country had carried out a practice of giving small blood transfusions to children to “strengthen” them. Sadly, large numbers of children contracted HIV as a result. In addition, children suffered from inadequate food, housing, clothing, medical care, lack of stimulation or education, and neglect. Disabled children suffered even grimmer conditions and treatment, with many malnourished and diseased.

In China, Human Rights Watch documented in 1996 a secret world of starvation, disease, and unnatural death—a world intowhich thousands of Chinese orphans and abandoned children disappeared each year. We revealed a pattern of cruelty, abuse, and malign neglect that resulted in very high mortality rates in state institutions. The Chinese government’s own statistics revealed that in 1989 a staggering number of abandoned children admitted to China’s orphanages were dying in institutional care. Many institutions appeared to be operating as little more than assembly lines for the elimination of unwanted orphans, with an annual turnover of admissions and deaths far exceeding the number of beds available.

In 1998 we sent an investigatory mission to Russia to look into state orphanages, where many thousands of children were confined in inhumane conditions.

We hope, through our work on orphanages and other non-penal institutions, to raise international awareness about the plight of children doomed to death or to life stunted by inhumane and degrading conditions, and to make significant changes in the way orphaned and abandoned children are treated throughout the world.



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Human RIghts Watch