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Regular version of the site

The Economic Geography of Russia’s Orphanages

Religion, social welfare, and the quantityof orphanages are the most important factors influencing the number of orphans in Russian provinces. “Regional Differences in the Number of Orphans in Today's Russia” is a report authored by Sergei Vinkov.

The Dima Yakovlev Law brought the issue of Russian orphanhood to public attention. People at multiple levels of government and the expert community have begun to discuss measures to reduce the number of orphans in Russia and to help improve living standards and social integration for those who end up not being adopted.

Multiple Problems Instead of Solutions

The gap between government-guaranteed support for orphans and actual delivery on promises causes multiple problems for both the orphans and Russian society in general, threatening social disaster. Researchers in various fields of the social sciences and humanities (sociologists, psychologists, legal scholars, and economists) as well as practitioners are looking at the causes of thisdisaster, its key characteristics and potential solutions.

Economists are looking for ways to ensure the effective distribution of welfare to orphans; psychologists are studying the effect of parental deprivation on the children’s behavioral and psycho-emotional development;educators are substantiatingthe methods and principles of education designed to prepare orphaned children forindependent living and to assist with their social integration; lawyers are investigating the legal controversy regarding the social protection of orphans and the essential meaning of social guarantees, while sociologists are analysing the orphans’ socialisationprocess, their role and place in society, and other issues.

Statistical Twilight Zone

Researchers, however, lack reliable statistics on the current number of orphans, yearly balances of orphans (the number of orphans at the start and end of the year and the fate of those who are no longer considered orphans), geographical distribution (by province, city, village, etc), age distribution, causes of orphanhood, etc.

Research has found nocorrelation between orphanhood and incomes.There are fewer orphans in many poor regions than in more affluent ones.

On 28 December 2012, the Russian President issued a decree on state support for orphans, including, in particular, a requirement to collect orphanhood statistics. The Federal State Statistics Service, or Rosstat, collects general data on orphans, but Rosstat Director Alexander Surinov admits that making sense of this data is a problem. 'The statistics are not clear. First we need to decide who should be considered an orphan. It may seem obvious that orphans are children who have lost their parents. But what about adopted children – do we regard them as orphans? Without a clear definition, the numbers may be over or underestimated. Multiple government departments collect thisdata but do so based on their own agendas and areas of responsibility: the Education Ministry is concerned abouteducation, the Health Ministry is concerned about health, while the police are concerned about youngsters hanging out in the streets', said the Head of Statistics earlier this year.

The lack of reliable statistics affects the delivery of promised support to orphans. For example, there have been reports of inadequate record-keeping in orphanages, resulting in orphans not being able to access their housing allowance upon discharge from state care, which further aggravated their lack of integration in the community and their vulnerability due to a poor awareness of their rights and entitlements.

According to the most recent Rosstat data, Russia has about 720,000 orphans, but this number includes youth older than 18 who remain in state care, which makes calculating the number of orphans under 18 extremely problematic.

Poverty Not A Cause

Sergei Vinkov, Research Fellow with the HSE Laboratory for Intelligent Systems and Structural Analysis, looked at geographical differences in the number of orphans to find out which Russian provinces have a higher and lower prevalence of orphans and what factorsare at play.

He used the Rosstat official data to perform a cluster analysis of 83 provinces, studying the impact of 26 variables which theoretically could influence the dynamics of orphanhood. These variables includedcharacteristics specific to the province (population size and density, religion, degree of urbanization), the number of orphans per 100 thousand inhabitants, the number of orphanages, TB prevalence (a social welfare indicator), average per capita income, the percentage of poor, the cost of housing, the prevalence of neglected housing, drug and alcohol use, mental health, crime, and others.

An interim analysis identified five most significant factors and six geographical clusters. The most significant factors included: the number of orphans, the number of orphanages, the number of TB patients, availability of housing, and the number of people with disabilities. Sergei Vinkov notes that to his surprise, he found no correlation between orphanhood and incomes; in fact, there are fewer orphans in poor regions than in more affluent ones.

The six clusters identified by the study included provinces with an Islamic culture (Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chechnya, etc), the Russian East (Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Kemerovo, etc), the Russian European North (Vologda and Yaroslavl Oblasts, Karelia, etc), the central corridor (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Belgorod, etc), and the Urals-West Siberia-Central Russiawith an emphasis on the West (including Kaliningrad).

Vinkov found the lowest numbers of orphans and orphanages in the Islamic cluster, even though its constituent provinces have more children with disabilities (137% of the average).

The number of orphanages was the next most important factor after local culture and religion: the more orphanages, the more orphans. This phenomenon was observed in the third cluster spanning the north of European Russia. 'This finding may be explained by the fact that the orphanage directors are known to request child protection authorities and courts to send them more children to fill their institutions to capacity and thus entitle them to more funding', explained Vinkov. 'And since there are no clear criteria as to why children may be taken into care, it is fairly easy to do. Many people can be accused of child abuse or neglect. It shouldalso be noted that decisions concerning orphans are devolved to the provinces'.

Other factors which have a significant impact on the number of orphans in a province include social welfare (expressed in TB prevalence) and housing. The availability of decent housing means fewer orphans. The TB factor was significant in the second cluster – the Far East – where high TB prevalence correlated with a large number of orphans.

Comment by HSE Institute of Demography Deputy Director Sergey Zakharov :

The hardest part of studying the problem of orphanhood in Russia is thelack of reliable statistics and calculations. So far no one here has been able to calculate the orphanhood balance, ie the number of orphans at the start and end of the year and the fate of those who are no longer considered orphans. Another important question yet to be answered concerns the orphans' age distribution. Direct age-disaggregated data is restricted and not available from Rosstat; such data is only available from individual orphanages and local administrations. Without this information, it is impossible to calculate the person-years spent in orphanages.

It is particularly important to learn about the number andfate of 15-year-olds, since very young orphans are few in number and readily adopted or taken into foster care, while adolescents stay in orphanages until they are 18 or 24 years of age  up to the time they are discharged from state care. The fact that today we have fewer 15-year-old orphans than usual is a consequence of low birth rates, rather than social policies.

Indeed, orphanages encourage child protection authorities to take children into care. But there is no coordination across provinces: an orphan cannot be accommodated in another province just because no orphanage in thehome province has a place for him/her.


February 04, 2013