Abandoned and Neglected: The life of a social orphan

A few weeks ago we gave a short history of Russian orphans, and the systems that have kept many children out of homes and healthy environments.  This week we are going to discuss the phenomenon of social orphans.

A social orphan is a child that has at least one living parent, but has either been abandoned by this parent, has runaway from home because they can no longer live in such an environment, or they have been removed from their home because the government deems it an unsafe living environment.  Unlike some countries where the numbers of children orphaned remains high because of war and disease, many children in Russia are abandoned because of social issues that corrupt families.

So what are these continuing social cycles that have uprooted the fabric that binds families together and created a system of disenfranchised children?  In the last ten years research has been done by Russian organizations to learn why the epidemic of social orphans continues to remain in Russia.

A teacher at one of Moscow’s correctional Boarding Houses did a study on youth who have grown up in state boarding houses, and how it impacts their future success.  According to the study children in these boarding houses have little knowledge of the future of an IMG_8507individual life outside of a larger community.   The only understanding these children have of life outside of the institution comes from the adults who work in the facilities and stories from children who entered the facility at an older age.  These adolescents cannot form realistic, or even appropriate, ideas about life in society.  They have a limited understanding of how individual families work and how interactions outside of the institution are conducted, which leads to life long problems. Also the education at these institution boarding schools is curtailed compared to other schools.  Thus, these residents enter society without a proper education, without an understanding of social norms, and no example of proper behavior within relationships.

What this teacher demonstrates through her study is the inability for many orphans raised in state institutions to function in normal society, which then continues the cycle.  Another study on the outcome of students graduating from state institutions shows dire results.  According this research that 40-50% of these youth end up in crime, prostitution, drugs, or suicide.  Also, this population is at high risk of creating orphans themselves, thus reiterating the cycle.

Yet this problem is twofold. The culture of the youth in general certainly causes the orphan cycle to continue, but also the stereotypes Russians have of orphans pushes these children into the margins.  These stereotypes stop the Russian community from accepting these children as their own and can force the children into lifestyles that fulfill the stereotypes.  For instance mass media, movies, and literature show orphans as poor, hungry, abandoned, and forgotten; but also, aggressive with bad genes and a tendency toward deviant behavior. Such stereotypes are often fulfilled by the societal systems set in place.

Research from 2010 says that Russia now has 700,000 orphans, which is more than after WWII.  Obviously these systems that create social orphans will not quickly change and there is no easy fix for the situation.  Yet, there is a silver lining.  The research for this article all came from Russian sources, be it Russian newspapers or studies done by Russians in their own institutions.  SunErgos is working hand-in-hand with Russians to change the systems that create these problems.

SunErgos joins these forces to create societal change for social orphans so that they may become healthy contributors to society.  Maybe this generation of social orphans will be the one to change societies understanding of being an orphan—maybe they will stop the cycle.

Written by Hilary Morris, past Creative Writing Intern