by Sergei Blagov
(IPS) MOSCOW --
is 12, but looks older. He fled from his alcoholic parents to work at a gas station near Severyanin bridge in Moscow.
Mitya is quick at the job. He is tipped three to five rubles (10 to 15 cents) a car. He makes 200 to 300 rubles a day, more than his parents' income before they lost their jobs.
Mitya is one of almost a million working children in Russia under the legal working age of 14. That includes about 50,000 children working in Moscow, according to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Most of these children come from depressed homes in the economically depressed regions of Russia, the ILO report says. Many come also from the new republics formed after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the report says.
Many of these children come from families where the parents are alcoholic, according to a study by the labor and social development ministry.
The children are described by authorities as being "without parental care" although an estimated 90 percent of them have parents. Many of the alcoholic parents make no effort to trace their children, the study says.
Most of these children live on a combination of irregular work, begging and small theft, the ministry says. They clear garbage, they pump gas and wash cars, and other such work. The ILO report says that 10 to 30 percent of these children slip into crime or prostitution.
Labor and Social Development Minister Alexander Pochinok says the problem of abandoned children and child labor is becoming a "considerable issue" in Russia. More than 16,000 criminal cases were registered last year against employers using child labor, according to the ministry.
The government spent about $25 million last year to have social workers and orphanages tackle the problem of abandoned children. But funding is inadequate for the task, Pochinok says.
Russia is due to join the international convention banning child labor. Following that Russia will be bound to create a database of children at risk and to toughen punishment for those employing children.
But critics argue that harsh measures against child employment could push children further towards illegal activities.
President Vladimir Putin said last month that there is growing "aggression, intolerance, drug addiction and crime" among the young. Putin said the problem is severe in the economically depressed regions.
Human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations have been calling on the Russian government to introduce new policies for abandoned children. The groups are making appeals to the ministries of health, education and labor.
Education experts say the declining standards in cash-strapped institutions are leading to rising dropouts from school. Many of these children end up working illegally.
Albert Likhanov, head of Children's Fund in Russia says many children are being fed on a budget of no more than 11 rubles (30 cents) a day. The government had promised to appoint a federal commissioner on the rights of children, but this has not yet been done. Several other reform measures proposed by the independent groups have been ignored.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has been carrying out a number of programs in cities across Russia to support abandoned children, Anna Chernyakhovskaya, UNICEF representative in Moscow told IPS. Over the last two years UNICEF has spent about half a million dollars in support of abandoned children in Moscow and St. Petersburg, she said.
But everyone agrees that this level of resources is only a fraction of what is needed.
August 2 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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