Belarus Makes Plans to Help Older Orphans

04/10/2011 - Belarusian officials are creating a database to monitor orphaned children up to age 23. Older orphans often face a lack of resources and support upon leaving institutions.

The government of Belarus is in the process of editing laws and policies governing the care of orphans and other children without parental care. At the end of the process, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labor will have developed positions on post-orphanage care of children.

Belarus is home to 21,000-23,000 children at risk. The number of families with individual plans to protect the rights of their children has remained steady around 12,000-13,000. In total, according to 2009 estimates published by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), there are 150,000 children under the age of seventeen who have lost one or both of their parents.

"About four thousand children are annually losing parental care for various reasons," said Yuri Emelianenko, department head for social and educational work at the Ministry of Education.

Authorities are intending to create an electronic database of orphaned children under the age of 23. Various education institutions will also be included in the database, planning for the organization and operation of which is already underway.

According to the charity, Bridge of Hope for Belarus and Others (BHBO), once orphans are discharged from orphanages at the age of 17, they face a whole new set of vulnerabilities. Without proper life skills, support and opportunities, these adolescents, upon leaving institutions, can face difficulty finding a job, a home and even food to sustain themselves. BHBO provides funds and other resources to help orphans attain the basic life and employment skills that can help give them a solid foundation and a better chance at a fulfilling future.

According to BHBO, there are as many as 50,000 children living in 600 orphanages in Belarus. The biggest challenge is the "social orphan." Social orphans have parents, but have been abandoned, sometimes because of alcoholism and sometimes because of poverty or other reasons.

Alcohol abuse is widespread, with parental neglect, child abuse and domestic violence against women and children remaining significant challenges, notes UNICEF. Nearly a quarter of all children delivered in 2003 were born out of wedlock and the spread of HIV/AIDS continues to be a major concern.

Secondly, a comprehensive model for monitoring  adoptive families is also being developed. Recruitment drives for adoptive families is another example of endeavors being contemplated to improve orphan care. For instance, the distribution of promotional materials (brochures, books, leaflets and posters) and other information is being organized for factories, health clinics, and educational institutions with the aim of finding alternative care, such as adoptive parents or foster families, for vulnerable children.

Local media reported at the beginning of last month that Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, promised to find homes for 80 per cent of the country's orphans within the coming five years. The government will do its best, he said, to banish the words "orphan" and "orphanage" forever.