Russian orphans: how many and who cares?
Statistics, facts, and information about Russian orphans
Most things and people of importance are counted. We have been ministering
to Russian orphans for ten years, and we have not yet seen a definitive report on
the number of Russian orphans and children at risk. Some reports place the
number at over 100,000. Some, at 700,000. And one report indicates there are
almost 4 million Russian orphans, if street children are included. In Ludmila
Shipitsyna's book Psychology of Orphans, published in 2008, she writes that the
official number at the end of 2004 was 699,200, but official police files state 2.5
million. Dr. Shipitsyna, a noted psychologist who resides in St. Petersburg, Russia,
writes that "Russia occupies first place in the world by number of orphans per
10,000 children" and that nearly 50 percent of Russia's children (18 million) "belong
to the social risk zone".
Secondly, who cares about Russian orphans?
Fortunately, there are churches, ministries, organizations, and individuals who care
much for Russian orphans. But more help is needed. More prayer is needed.
More resources are needed. It seems that much of the care and concern for the
plight of Russian orphans comes from outside the country. Marianna Belenkaya,
writing for RIA Novosti, cited the results of a poll about attitudes to orphans
conducted in downtown Moscow. When asked about their attitude towards
orphans, 999 out of 1,000 respondents said that the problem has “nothing to do
with me”. Children in Russia were the victims of more than 100,000 crimes in 2009,
with about 2,000 killed, according to Pavel Astakhov, Russia's ombudsman for
You can read more below about how we are working with churches in Russia to
change this attitude.
(What can you do to help? Check out our suggestions on how you can get
involved to help rescue Russian orphans in right-hand column on this page.)
It is probably safe to say that government-run Russian orphanages are home for
hundreds of thousands of Russian orphans. In 2011, our best estimate is 800,000
Russian orphans. Most of the older orphans in Russia have a living mother or
father, who has abused, neglected, or abandoned the child. The government
removes the parent’s rights to be a parent, and the child is placed in an
orphanage. Most often, the parent’s neglect or abuse results from addiction to
drugs and/or alcohol.
Russian orphanage system
The Russian orphanage system sets up a vicious cycle. Orphans graduate at
age 15 or 16 without family, without support systems, and without guidance. They
often turn to drugs and alcohol, they have children, and their children become
Human Rights Watch published a report in 1998 entitled: Cruelty and Neglect in
Russian Orphanages. Although the report is now somewhat dated, it provides good
background to help understand why many Russians (even those in the church)
consider orphans to be "defective" or to have a curse on their life. Orphans who
survive the quiet horror of baby houses are often automatically diagnosed as
“oligophrenic,” or mentally retarded. Many bright children are unfortunately labeled
as "oligophrenic" simply because they are poor or have been abandoned by their
parents. Conditions in orphanages are better today than in 1998, but the Human
Rights Watch report provides a good platform for understanding the plight of
The answer to Russia’s orphan problem is not better-equipped orphanages,
more and better food in orphanages, and social programs in orphanages.
The answer for Russia’s problem with orphans is family. Most Russian orphans will
never have a family unless we find ways to provide family for them. Big Family
Mission’s goal is to bring orphans into families: families on earth and God’s eternal
family in heaven.
Dr. Shipitsyna writes: "Being an orphan has a destructive effect upon the
emotional connection of a child with his or her social environment, with the world of
adults and peers, who are developing in more advantageous conditions". She
states that this causes serious disturbances in the orphan's social, psychological,
and physical development.
Helping Russian orphans
Ten years ago, we felt God’s call to minister to and to help Russian orphans. In the
early days, we helped orphanages with their physical needs. Restrooms were in
terrible condition, showers were either broken or non-existent, beds and pillows
were falling down and falling apart. Today, for the most part, physical conditions
are better in Russian orphanages.
A modern and well-equipped orphanage cannot begin to substitute for family.
Without our help, a typical Russian orphan faces a bleak future: drugs, alcohol,
prison, prostitution, suicide, violent death. We often refer to the the Russian
orphanage system as the world’s most cruel “surprise party”. For many years, until
an orphan reaches age 15 or 16, the orphanage provides shelter, food, clothing,
and structure for the child. In this environment, the orphan becomes very
dependent for all of his or her needs. They learn almost nothing about
responsibility. Then, suddenly the orphan “graduates” and is sent into the world
with no family and no support structure to help them. They are “free” and often use
their freedom to launch into all of the wrong things that the world offers them.
Ministering in orphanages
Big Family Mission works through churches and Christian families in Russia to
bring the Light and Love of Jesus Christ into orphanages. Our volunteers cannot
“preach” in orphanages, but they can communicate one-on-one and in small groups
about the heavenly Father who loves each child and has a special plan for their
Our volunteers are the only family that many of these orphans will ever know. Big
Family Mission supports the ministry of volunteers in Russia by providing funds for
treats (candy, cakes, fruit, and tea, for example) and personal items that are often
in short supply at the orphanages. If there is a specific need in an orphanage, we
often help sponsor projects or field trips for the orphans.
Different kinds of orphanages
There are different kinds of orphanages in Russia. Big Family Mission works with
and ministers to older Russian orphans. Most of the children are ages 5 through
18. Most of the orphans in our programs are in “internat” schools. Russian
orphanages are a poor substitute for family life, but orphanage/internat schools are
even worse. The internat schools are supposed to provide education for “slow
learners”. They usually have students who go home to family every day, as well as
children who live at the orphanage/school. Children placed in this type of
orphanage/school are often bright and talented, but have just been neglected and
abused and have not had a chance to learn and progress like more fortunate
Some of our work in Russia has focused on developing opportunities for
orphans who graduate from internat schools to have a “transition home” that
provides structure and some semblance of family while they attend technical
school. Unfortunately, many of the orphan graduates do not want to subject
themselves to the order and discipline of a transition home. They simply do not
have the wisdom and guidance to help them realize they need the transition home
Big Family Mission, in cooperation with other organizations and ministries in Russia,
recently started the “Russia with No Orphans” project.
President Medvedev: "no orphans in Russia"
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has stated in his annual address to the
Russian nation that there should be no orphans in Russia because the main goal
for orphanages is to help families to adopt children.
"In our country, unfortunately, there are many children, who remain without a family;
they have neither parents nor guardians. They are denied the most important thing:
family warmth," the president said in his state of the nation address to both houses
"Guardianship must be directly focused on child placement in families and
helping foster families," Medvedev said. There should be no un-adopted children in
The president said that much needs to be done in the country "so the phrase
'abandoned children' disappears from our lives."
Russia with no orphans?
Through our human efforts, it seems an impossible dream. However, with God,
all things are possible! Join us now to help sponsor a Russian
More information about Russian orphans:
- Figures that estimate the number of homeless children in Russia are
somewhat unreliable. The Russian Children's Fund estimated in 2001 that
there were some 2.5 million homeless children, although other estimates
reached as high as 4 million;
- Baby and toddler orphans live in "baby homes" until they are about 5 years
old. If a child is not adopted before they reach age 5 (and most are not), the
young children are sent to an orphanage where most children range in age
from 5 to 16;
- At age 15 or 16, the orphans "graduate" from the orphanage environment
and most are "on their own" to attend vocational or trade schools. These
children have lived in the orphanage environment their entire life and most
have no idea of how to live on their own and take responsibility. Most will
quickly get frustrated and turn to drugs and alcohol.
- One report indicates that 9 out 10 graduate orphans end up in crime, prison,
- There are more than 120 orphanages in the St. Petersburg area of Russia,
where Big Family started its ministry;
- After the fall of Soviet rule in 1991, the number of abandoned children has
- Poverty and unemployment continue to be big problems in Russia.
- Most Russian orphans would be in foster homes if they were in America.
There is no developed foster home system in Russia. Although placing a
child in an orphanage costs the government more than placing a child in a
foster home in Russia, the government has been slow in encouraging the
development of foster homes. Big Family Mission encourages the
development of foster homes and foster home programs in Russia.
- The vast majority of orphans in Russia are “social orphans”; one report
estimates that 95% of Russian orphans have at least one living parent.
Many of these children have been abandoned by their parents, and some
have a mother or father who cannot care for them because of illness,
imprisonment, or addiction to drugs.
- Conditions in orphanages vary greatly. Most do not have adequate plumbing
or physical facilities. Children live in crowded quarters and many personal
items and clothing items are in short supply. Many orphanages do not have
bathing or shower facilities for the children, and many do not have washing
machines to wash the children's clothing. Food is usually adequate, but fruit
is usually a rare treat for the children.
- Although the living conditions for the orphans in Russia may need improving,
the real tragedy for Russian orphans is that they live in a protected and very
regimented environment for 15 or 16 years, and then "graduate" into a world
where they have little chance of succeeding. The system is indeed setting
them up for failure. Big Family Mission is working with other organizations in
Russia to try to change this system and give orphans opportunities to
- For more information about orphans and children at risk in Russia, the
CoMission for Children at Risk is an excellent resource. You will also find
there much information about other organizations and ministries that work
with orphans in Russia and other eastern European countries. Their web
address: www.comissionforchildren.com .