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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 12:44 GMT
Russia's unwanted babies in hospital limbo
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

A gagged baby at Yekaterinburg hospital (Credit: NTV)

Mobile phone video of babies in a Russian hospital with sticking plaster apparently covering their mouths made headlines around the world but the plight of the otkazniki - the infants abandoned by their mothers in hospital - goes much deeper.

For Maxim Gareyev, editor of Yekaterinburg's parenting newspaper Yeka-mama, the story which broke at Hospital No 15 was no great surprise.

"We get confidential letters and private messages from officials and others about babies being maltreated in hospitals but nobody wants to speak out because they don't want to lose their jobs or they fear for their reputations," he told the BBC News website.

Mr Gareyev has little to say about the "gagging" case, pointing out that city prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation.

The hospitals make space for these babies but the problem is that in the first year of life a baby needs to be cuddled, it needs to be talked to
Maxim Gareyev
Editor of Yekaterinburg newspaper Yeka-mama

But what he can talk about is the circumstances of the babies, because it is something he knows well from both his newspaper's own reporting and his charity work to help them.

Babies officially taken into care by the state on the grounds that their parents are unfit to rear them are usually out of hospital and in a children's home within a few days of birth, says Mr Gareyev.

But otkazniki are often left behind in hospitals for months, awaiting a vacancy. If a carer is not found, they will be packed off to orphanages at the age of three.

And their experiences during those first years of life may mark them permanently.

Nowhere to go

The reported events at Hospital No 15 are a first for Carel de Rooy, the Unicef representative in Russia and Belarus, but the issue of otkazniki is one that he has long been pushing for the Russian authorities to address.

730,000 children growing up without biological parents
only 10% are orphans in the true sense of the word
75% grow up in families (guardianship, foster care, patronage and adoption)
186,000 grow up in institutions
Between 50,000 and 250,000 children live on the streets
source: Unicef

"Hospital staff are trained to care for the sick - they are not trained to deal with the cognitive and emotional development of babies," he told the BBC News website.

"This has serious implications both for the development and long-term health of the child."

Given the potential for damage to these babies' make-up, why do they get left in hospital? The answer, Maxim Gareyev explains, is lack of resources.

"We simply do not have enough children's homes in Sverdlovsk [the region around Yekaterinburg] and Russia in general," he says.

"These babies get left in hospitals but there are no funds or trained medical staff or special facilities for caring for them.

"Of course, the hospitals make space for these babies but the problem is that in the first year of life a baby needs to be cuddled, it needs to be talked to, if it is to develop as a human being."

Overworked nurses

Charities have stepped in to do what they can for the babies. Olga Bizimova, a 27-year-old married mother of two, became a volunteer in Yekaterinburg's Little Stork group because she felt sorry for them.

Kirill, one of Russia's abandoned babies (photo: Yeka-mama newspaper)
Kirill, two months, featured in a Yeka-mama report on otkazniki

"We buy disposable nappies and baby food," she told the BBC News website.

"We visit our local hospital. We give the babies a bath, we dress them and, if we get permission, we take them out for walks. Then we come back and we play games and feed them."

She also once visited Hospital No 15, which treats infectious diseases, and she had the impression that it was a "good, clean hospital where the kids are looked after well".

"The only problem was that the nurses in charge of them had an awful lot of work to do looking after sick children and simply did not have the time to look after the abandoned babies too," she says.

When Mrs Bizimova was at No 15, she was warned that some of the babies could have infectious diseases.

The city has a children's home specially equipped for treating such children but it is currently full, she says.

Carel de Rooy notes that the situation of children infected with HIV/Aids in Russia is particularly serious, with some babies "lingering in hospitals for 18 months or more".


About 730,000 children are growing up in Russia without their biological parents, of whom only 10% are orphans in the true sense of the word, according to Unicef.

It is not the job of hospital staff to care for babies full-time
Maxim Gareyev
Editor of Yekaterinburg newspaper Yeka-mama

Almost 75% of them grow up in families through guardianship, foster care, patronage or adoption but that leaves about 186,000 children growing up in institutions.

For volunteer Olga Bizimova, the main reasons why mothers give up their babies are lack of money and living-space along with problems such as alcoholism.

Mr de Rooy agrees that Russia's economic growth has "unfortunately not translated into support for the poorest families".

But he also calls on the state to allow mothers more time to decide about keeping their children and invest in training for families, which "costs less in the long run than care in state institutions".

Maxim Gareyev finds a positive in the investigation at Hospital No 15: hospital staff have been given a "good scare" which will make them more careful about babies, he says.

Yet he is worried that a successful prosecution may only mask the longer-term problem of babies left neglected in hospitals.

"I for one could not bring myself to condemn outright any nurse that is convicted - it is not the job of hospital staff to care for babies full-time," he says.

"I am afraid that she may be used here as a scapegoat when the real culprit is our state."

Are you concerned about how abandoned babies are treated in your country?

Your comments:

I have seen a special report on the TV on that topic. Most of the parents abondoning children are very young themselves. Some of the mothers abondoning children did it just because they were afraid of their own parents' anger! Some of these mothers are homeless. And many of them were grown in institutions themselves. So it's hard to blame children-parents for abandoning their children since they are too young to understand some things. But certainly the way out is to make sure more children are adopted. There is redtape, but there must be more programmes in Russia itself convincing rich people of Russia (there are many!) to think about adoption, not only travelling to luxurious resorts and spending a lot of money for jewelry or purchasing Chelseas!
Konstantin, Kiev, Ukraine

Ease or streamline foreign adoption agencies. There are so many folks in USA that would be happy to adopt these children, yet they are deterred by stringent policies and a lengthy process, often involving bribery, etc. Although who can blame Russians? After a few cases when american foster parents abused and murdered their adopted russian babies, who wouldn't be careful... Well, at least these children are in the hospital, imagine children in Africa that never get a treatment like this... Oh well enough of the sad thing, let's go back and spend some more billions on wars and making others live the way we think they ought to...
Andrew B., Fairfield, USA

To Ketri from Prague. Have you read the article? They are different babies, from different backgrounds. Many abandoned because their mothers have no place to live or not any income at all. Some are sick - no doubt about that. But not necessarily with 'foetal alcohol syndrome'. What you said about Russian babies is understandable, but not acceptable. They are suffering enough already, so, there is no need to call them, for obvious political reasons, 'future serial killers'.
Irene, UK-Russia

I didn't read stories like these until I became a father. I have a four month old son who is so fragile and dependent on me that my heart bleeds at the sight of the abandoned Kirill. As adults, you'd think we'd know better. Their crying bares no malice or hate. It is one of innocence, which can only be consoled by love, not these barbaric tactics. Any individuals responsible for gagging them should be gagged, chained, and starved of attention. I for one would like to see how they whimper and cry.
andy, USA

Nothing that happens in Russia would surprise me these days. Once one of the biggest super powers on the planet,now thousands of it's people are starving and living in the most dreadful conditions we could imagine. It is awful what is happening to those babies, and speaking as a father of 3 young girls i find it even harder to believe the things those babies go through. Im sure it would be nice to takeout a big magic wand and fix it all but the reality is "how do you tackle such a problem".It really isnt as simple as people might think.
Gavin Kavanagh, Athy,CO.Kildare Ireland

We have relatives who adopted two of these children years ago. Their lives have been hell. The children have acted so bad that the parents were being checked as abusive parents. The children do not respond to anyone. They would defecate and throw up at will. They are better now, but far from perfect. Russia needs to allow these babies to be adopted from people in other countries. The young babies require love and tender care or they are ruined for life.
Thomas Wieken, Stamford, United States

Last time I checked it took two people to make a baby...why are only the mothers being villainized in this story? I would imagine that if better medical care were available to poor women abortion might be an option. I'd also imagine that if there were effective welfare programs in place that would enable women to raise their children, many would. I cannot believe that Russian women are different from any other women...given the resources most would likely make a different decision.
Nicole, Denver, Colorado, USA

Russia can send their cosmonauts to space, its entrepreneurs can buy football clubs, but yet 'Mother' Russia cannot look after its own children. The shame and blame with this lies with the government of all countries where this happens, not just Russia.
Philip, Ireland

I feel very sorry for these babies. They deserve just as much chance for a normal childhood as any other child. I hope Russia promotes international adoption to help these children. At the same time, I hope my country makes adoption easier and less expensive. Currently, I've heard some parents prefer to go to China and adopt a child because of the ease and affordability than deal with adoption red-tape in the United States. Parents sometimes spend well over $40,000 and more to adopt when it should be free, provided the parents are proven qualified with a background check.
SV, New York, USA

This article says that children stay in these conditions because they don't have the resources. But they don't need the resources to look after them! They just need the (comparitively small) resources to ensure they get adopted by the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide ready, willing and able to offer them a loving home. Despite this crisis it can still take a year or more to adopt from Russia, usually through an intermediary taking "administrative expenses" that run to tens of thousands of dollars/euros/pounds. That the adoption channels are so obstructed is due to Russian pride, Russian beaurocracy and Russian corruption. If they aren't prepared to pay to sort out their own mess then Unicef should step in, liasing with the governmental agencies in adoptive countries to ensure these children go to good homes ... not tomorrow or next week or next month but NOW!
Jim McCall, Toronto, Canada

My son was an abandoned baby in Russia. He is the light of our life and was well taken care of by his hospital and the staff of his orphanage. He is a sweet, happy child which reflects well on his early caretakers. But reading this story just makes one want to fly over and scoop up as many children as possible to deliver to waiting, adoptive families.
DeAnne Mangum, Raleigh USA

russia is a developed country, there should be no excuse for this behaviour. the govt needs to build facilities for these poor babies. i have one child and i can't imagine 'gagging' him when he cries, they are medical practitioners, they should know better. i am truly appalled
fenella djangmah, ghana

Heartwrenching, though not surprising. In a time of record breaking profits both in Russia and globally, we find the weakest neglected. Shame on all of us and our arrogance. Perhaps we should not occupy this planet for long after all.
saman shams, Toronto Canada

Two of these babies now live next door to my mom in Texas and the problems they have are unbelievable. The chance that they will ever be "normal" is very slim, and the one with fetal alcohol syndrome is showing all the signs of becoming a serial killer. Someone mentioned abortion. That's fine, except that the average Russian woman has 5 or 6 abortions in her lifetime already. The best solution is increased use of birth control. These pregnancies need to be prevented in the first place.
Ketri, Prague, Czech Republic

I just find it very sad and I actually had tears reading this. Those children did not choose this, it is alwasy adults that ruin children's lives. The first 2 years are the most important, and look what these children have and how they are being treated. Sounds like lots of social problems for them are coming. And I do agree with the one statement that making nurses scapegoats is bad when it is a state problem.
Kevin, Calgary, Canada

Have had 6 miscarriages and still no baby. Would love to adopt these babies and give them a truly happy life but the red tape makes it unaffordable for me to even think about.
Linda, England

Maybe some of the profits from the government-owned petroleum business could be used to build care homes.
JN Williams, Belgium

I am not a proponent of communism, but you can be sure that this wasn't happening in the days of the USSR. Capitalism is not good for the human race. It destroys the institution of the family, and it makes people only care about themselves - in most cases purely out of necessity. Add to that low salaries and high life expenses, and who wants to have children anyway? Short of being inhuman, parents abandon their children only when they absolutely don't have the means to raise them.
Zoran, Belgrade, Serbia

This is very ugly image for Russia and Russian alike,the government should be able to build adoptive home for these infants where they can grow or even be given out for adoption,instead of flexing muscle to weaker countries for selfish reason.
Folarin Oyalade, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

It's very aggravating that there are 186,000 children growing up in institutions in Russia alone, but that, because of governmental red tape, by both American and Russian governments, my wife and I cannot adopt one. We want to adopt. We are both schoolteachers. We are financially stable and already have one son, but it is somehow better to let these children grow up with no family than to let them go to a family that could give them the love and attention they need.
Aaron McCool, Salem, OR, United States

Give us access to these children - thousands of families are waiting to adopt, and give the children a future.
Beverley Morris kafetzi, Rhodes, Greece

Russia is a developed country, there should be no excuse for this behaviour. The govt needs to build facilities for these poor babies. i have one child and i can't imagine 'gagging' him when he cries, they are medical practitioners, they should know better. I am truly appalled
Fenella Djangmah, Ghana

Why is it that no one can take accountability when it comes to basic human needs? These innocent children did not ask to be born into this world where no one wants them. If the parents are cruel and selfish enough to leave them, it is up to the good people of the world to care for and nurture them - whether it's a busy nurse or a charity volunteer. Perhaps the government should provide more funding to hire caretakers for these innocent victims.
Kelly , London, England

Heartbreaking. Shocking to learn that only 10% of these children are orphans, but why isn't anyone asking why these women don't have abortions instead of abandoning their newborns?
Helen Hunt, New York, NY

I feel so sorry for those babies that would gladly adopt two but unfortunately the procedure costs a lot of money which we can't afford. Sad...
Olga Pershin, Toronto, Canada

Heartwrenching, though not surprising. In a time of record breaking profits both in Russia and globally, we find the weakest neglected. Shame on all of us and our arrogance. Perhaps we should not occupy this planet fopr long after all.
Saman Shams, Toronto Canada

Russia looks to its fathers
31 Mar 06 |  Europe
Russia's abandoned HIV children
21 Feb 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
03 Jan 07 |  Country profiles

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