Seven boys under the age of 14 who had been living in an orphanage for children with disabilities in the Chelyabinsk region of south-central Russia allege they were raped by orphanage staff and visitors, a lawyer for some of the boys told Human Rights Watch. The boys are now with adoptive or foster families.
According to Russian media reports, in February, three of the boys’ guardians told the director of the Lazurnenskaya Residential Corrective School, where the boys had been living, that the children said a man named “Sergei,” sometimes accompanied by another man, would take groups of children fishing to a nearby lake and rape them – at times in the presence of orphanage staff. The children also said that orphanage staff had raped them and other children in the orphanage’s dormitories, performed sexual acts in their presence, and accepted money from “Sergei” and the other man.
According to Andrei Lepyokhin, a lawyer from the nongovernmental organization Zona Prava representing six of the boys, one suspect has been arrested, and the criminal investigation is ongoing. Chelyabinsk oblast Governor Boris Dubrovskii issued a statement promising a thorough investigation, including an analysis of potential “flaws” in the management of state institutions for children.
A fundamental “flaw” is that children end up in these orphanages at all. Human Rights Watch has documented the risks of physical and psychological violence that children – particularly children with disabilities – face in Russian state institutions. All children have the right to grow up in a family, when possible. All children, including those with disabilities, have the right to live in communities – not isolated in institutions, where they may face the kinds of abuses these seven boys have alleged. At a minimum, children in residential care in Russia do not get the attention, nurturing, and support essential to their physical and emotional development.
Russian authorities should ensure the investigation into the rape allegations is effective and capable of leading to successful prosecutions and that children still in the orphanage are safe from harm. Equally important for children in orphanages across Russia, authorities should commit to prioritizing family-based care and moving children out of institutions to birth, foster, or adoptive families.