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Russian Federation

For homeless Russian children, hope and help to get off the streets

© UNICEF Russian Federation/2007
Teams travel by van to provide support and aid for homeless children in Moscow.

By Maria Gorbachova

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified 18 years ago, on 20 November 1989. For  this landmark anniversary, UNICEF has launched the ‘CRC@18’ campaign to raise awareness about child rights and the impact of the Convention. Here is one in a series of related stories. 

MOSCOW, Russia, 26 November 2007 – Farukh, 12, has lived in the street for over a year with his mother. They came to Moscow from Izhevsk, a small town in the Russian region of Udmurtia. He says there is no way they would ever go back, because his grandmother was always angry and drunk.

When they left, Farukh had to give up school, something he really used to enjoy – especially music lessons. But there were classmates who were sniffing glue, and that was something he says he never liked. He also says he likes reading, especially ‘Harry Potter’.

Farukh looks like almost any other Russian child: smiling face, clean clothes, even roller-blades. The only difference is that he has no home.

© UNICEF Russian Federation/2007
Staff members from the UNICEF partner organization Samu Social provide emergency medical care for homeless children in Moscow.

‘Reversing’ child homelessness

Farukh is about to find out about a sponsor who is willing to pay a year’s rent for an apartment to accommodate him and his mother. The main problem now is to persuade him to leave the street.

Specialists say it is possible to ‘reverse’ homelessness for children if they have been living on the street for less than six months; if it’s longer, they will have already grown used to finding their own ways to survive, and may well not want to go back.

Those who work with homeless children usually begin with an effort to help the ones who are still new to the streets. This is what the members of a French non-governmental organization and UNICEF partner called Samu Social are doing: They provide emergency assistance for street children in Moscow, trying to show them that they have other options and motivating them to change the situation.

Patrols give emergency aid

Samu Social sees its mission as a kind of link in the chain from emergency help for such young people to their social rehabilitation. Every night, Samu Social vans loaded with snacks, bottles of water and thermoses with hot drinks go out on special patrols looking for homeless children.

© UNICEF Russian Federation/2007
When they meet homeless children, Samu Social staff members give them addresses of places where they can go to for services and additional help.

UNICEF bought two of these vans for the group, using funds from private donations by Moscow citizens raised within the larger umbrella of UNICEF’s programme to help Russian street children.

When they meet homeless young people, Samu Social staff members give them brochures with addresses where they can go to for help. Emergency medical assistance is also provided, if needed. After building trust, the group starts working more closely with these youths, often arranging long-term medical treatment, finding out if they have any relatives left, or looking for a shelter or an orphanage ready to take them.

Starting with the family

Across the Russian Federation, UNICEF supports not only organizations such as Samu Social that provide emergency support to homeless children, but also those who work with families in crisis – where children are at risk of becoming homeless.

This is a part of a much larger programme UNICEF is trying to implement, working closely with Russian lawmakers and government institutions. The initiative targets the development of a more efficient state support for vulnerable families, training of more qualified specialists for family counselling and improvements in the larger system of social services.

UNICEF believes that the family is the best environment for any child, and that children should never be abandoned – including those who live in the streets.




November 2007:
UNICEF’s Maria Gorbachova reports on the work of partner organization Samu Social, which provides services to homeless children in Moscow.
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