March 23rd 2007 · Prague Watchdog / Ruslan Isayev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Large numbers of street children discovered in Chechnya

By Ruslan Isayev

CHECHNYA – The Chechen Interior Ministry’s "Operation Homeless Child" has identified 1,000 children who are involved in vagrancy. Even allowing for the fact that the republic has experienced two wars, this figure is a very large one.

In the scramble for the political dividends to be obtained from various amnesties, reconstruction projects and other much-bruited activities, street children have escaped the attention of Chechen society and the Chechen leadership.

But even now, when a peacetime mode of existence is becoming quite clearly established, the numbers of such children are increasing rather than the reverse. Over the past year, some 800 of them have been discovered. And about a thousand parents have been taken to court for child neglect.

The “difficult” children, as they are called by the staff of the republic’s juvenile rehabilitation inspectorates, are now approaching their favourite time of year, when it becomes possible for them to sleep out in the open. With the arrival of spring, their numbers usually increase.

The lives of such children have a rather narrow focus, which  is centred mostly on begging, stealing, or at best a job at a gas station. Many of them start smoking or experimenting with alcohol at any early age. The most common activity is glue-sniffing. Before the war, foreign cameramen could literally “smell out” the places where such children were hiding, and the estranged faces of young drug addicts often appeared in the world's television news.

Rustam was only 10 when the second war began. His was the usual fate of the neglected child : divorced parents, a bad stepmother, a drunken father. Now he is almost 17. He has a job as an ancillary worker on a construction site, and earns around 300 roubles (about $12) a day. He is going to get married. He likes to remember the time when he was homeless. “They were the freest years of my life,” he jokes.

“For example, there are an awful lot of homeless kids in the village of Chernorechye [on the outskirts of Grozny], where I live. They live in basements and abandoned houses. I know some of them. I even tried to drag one of them out of there. I told a police officer I knew, and he took the boy home. But then he ran away from home again. Now he’s in custody, charged with a criminal offence. A lot of kids end their childhood like that – behind bars.”

He is sure that such children bring shame on all Chechens, who have always been proud of their traditions. When adults see street children, they pretend not to notice them, and some just swear at them.

At one point, Rustam was put in a children's home in Ingushetia. But a few days later he ran away from there. He said he didn’t like it when the staff shouted at him. He thinks it’s a good thing that the children’s homes are being closed down, because the children in them were not being educated but morally crippled.

The measures taken by the authorities to identify neglected children in Chechnya have shown the seriousness of the problem this situation could lead to. Many observers are of the opinion that children of this kind need an individual approach, and a special program.

Although many Chechens would be glad to adopt children from the disbanded orphanages, it is doubtful that any families would take in children whose mental and physical health has been already been ruined by smoking and drinking, or who are addicted to glue-sniffing


 · Operations "Illegal immigrant" and "Homeless Child" (, 23.3. 2007)



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