Russia has been hard hit over the past decade and, as usual, it has been the weaker segments of society that have had to bear most of the brunt of the blow - pensioners, the infirm and, especially, children. Economic and social turmoil had led to a great increase in domestic strife, adult alcoholism, violence against children within the family and, indeed, premature death of parents. All these things have contributed to the rampant problem of so-called "social orphans," children who, though they may have living parents, for one reason or another either prefer life on the streets to life at home, or have been abandoned by their relatives.
As one would expect, a life on the streets, though perhaps preferable to one in an abusive home, is not a pleasant one. At the mercy of criminals and often involved in crime themselves, the children become both victims and victimizers. In addition, drug and alcohol addiction is common, and not surprisingly so - not only is it socially commonplace and accepted, it is often the only way to numb one´s consciousness of an otherwise intolerable situation or the emptiness of one´s stomach.
Orphanages are of little use, as many of these children, having living parents with legal parental rights, are ineligible. Moreover, the quality of care at most orphanages is severely sub-par today, not to mention the fact that many children actually prefer street life to existence in a children´s home.
The solution to this problem is, ultimately, not to be found in any Band-Aid approach such as Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov´s plan to enact an 11 p.m. curfew for children under 16 - though this might be desirable for other reasons, such as cutting down on crime. It can only be resolved by addressing the underlying causes, the anomie, despair and hopelessness that are the lot of many in Russia today.