Moscow´s Street Children: Easy Targets

30,000 to 50,000 Do What They Can to Survive

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MOSCOW, FEB. 6, 2002 ( Like other post-Communist societies, Russia is coping with the problem of street children.

In Moscow alone, 30,000 to 50,000 homeless minors survive as they can, washing cars, carrying boxes in markets and collecting refuse. More than half are younger than 13.

The bleak portrait is provided in a study by the Moscow office of the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency. Researchers questioned more than 1,500 children.

The most numerous group is made up of boys, 14 or younger, who work in places like supermarkets.

A second group, embracing 10% to 30% of children younger than 14, are engaged in illegal activities, including drugs, robberies and blackmail.

A third group, embracing 20% to 30% of street children between the ages of 12 and 18, are involved in prostitution and pornographic films. In Moscow alone, between 6,000 and 15,000 minors are victims of sexual exploitation.

Minors who hold “legal” jobs do not fare much better. The authors of the study collected testimonies of hunger, beatings and humiliations. The luckier children earn between $3 and $4.50 a day; the unlucky ones often fall prey to criminal bands.

Russia has yet to ratify the U.N. Convention that prohibits child labor, although it is on the Duma´s agenda. This would create the basis for the approval of appropriate laws and the implementation of aid programs.

A first regional project, sponsored by the United Nations, is under way in St. Petersburg as part of an international program to combat child labor.

Moscow´s City Council, however, has virtually no capacity or means to address the problem. Catholics and Protestants have begun to create institutions to help these children, but the institutions are few and regarded with suspicion by the authorities.

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