Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


Since the creche exists primarily to insure the future health of the members of the Soviet Union, it not only cares for the normal child in the best way possible, but it takes into active consideration the child who is born with, or has acquired, any physical or social liabilities, especially if those deficiencies can be remedied. To this end the Institute for the Protection of Mother and Child had several special creches for those children who, though apparently normal, had parents who were recognized drunkards or dope addicts. Contrary to the popular understanding in the Western World, the Soviet Government is conducting the most systematized attack on alcoholic beverages in the world today. Not long after the October Revolution, they passed a law for compulsory prohibition, which was later repealed because of the impossibility of enforcing it. Since then they have been attempting to educate the people into a realization that if they are to exist and compete with the rest of the world economically and socially, they must do all in their power to increase their efficiency and, amongst other things, give up excessive drinking. Therefore, alcoholic beverages are not sold on pay days and holidays but can be had at other times.

Members of the Communist Party in Russia are immediately reprimanded and soon expelled from the Party if they are found to be drinkers, which means that in this matter as well as in others, those who are managing the affairs of the U. S. S. R. are doing their best to set a good example to the rest of their countrymen. Of those who realize the value of good example, it is not surprising that the Communist Party is more strict with its members, regarding such matters, than with anybody else. Throughout Moscow and other big cities there are small hospitals which are open day and night, where drunkards from the streets are taken in and given treatment. The Labour Unions, too, send men and women to these hospitals when they feel that it is necessary. For a long time the Russians have been conducting very important research work on how to cure habitual drunkards, and at the present time they consider that the uncontrollable desire to drink is due to a lack of oxygen in the blood. Therefore, their treatment consists mainly in supplying extra oxygen to offset this lack. Because the tendency to such a deficiency in oxygen appears to be inherited, they put the children of habitual drunkards into special nurseries where from time to time they are given an additional supply of oxygen. In order to further this care the Institute for the Protection of Mother and Child has a programme to install these special creches and hospitals all over the U. S. S. R., especially in the rural districts for by so doing, they hope to completely stamp out the use of alcohol in Russia.

Dope addiction is not very prevalent in Russia proper. There are several reasons for this, the main one, according to the Soviet doctors, being that no one can afford to so indulge himself. However, it is said that in Mongolia where the people are in constant contact with the Orient, the use of drugs is not infrequent. The narcotic problem has become somewhat serious since the completion of the railroad across Central Asia, where it is hoped by Soviet officials that an entirely virgin country is to be opened to new agricultural pursuits. There, a great deal is being done to educate the natives inhabiting this vast area, and amongst other things it is necessary to organize simple and effective ways of combating- dope addiction, although to what extent such habits afflict the population of this area is not exactly known. In Moscow there is one creche and two hospitals in which drug addicts and their children receive attention. All three of these institutions are in the experimental stage, and as yet the medical methods used in them are those borrowed from' the western world.

Abnormal children are cared for in Russia in much the same way as in other countries. Abnormal children, here, means those who are mentally and physically deficient and not the unusually brilliant or gifted. They are kept in what the Russians call "closed institutions," which simply means that they live in the nursery all the time and have little or no contact with their parents. I did not go very deeply into the care of abnormal children in Russia, and therefore can say little concerning it except that from a superficial observation few differences could be noted between Russian and Western technique in the handling of such cases.

Orphans and abandoned children are kept in what is known as "Houses of Child." Occasionally, however, if parents are ill for a long period, with no means of support, and there is a vacancy in a "House of Child," their children are cared for by the State exactly as though they were orphaned. Some of these institutions care for children up to three years of age and are essentially nurseries like creches, except that the children live in them the year round. Others are for older children and are similar to ordinary orphanages, usually situated in the country where the inmates are trained in the various forms of agriculture.

There are many "Houses of Child" for children of all ages but we are, here, concerned only with those which resemble creches. In 1921 in Moscow there were nine such institutions, while in 1924 it was necessary to raise the number to twenty-five in order to care for the orphaned and abandoned children who had wandered to the Capital. Since that year, the number of abandoned children has steadily decreased, until in 1928 only eighteen "Houses of Child" were necessary. Today, in Moscow, approximately three thousand of destitute children are cared for by various such Institutions. The experimental "House of Child" for children of creche age is managed by Dr. Rudnic. It is, a palatial residence which formerly belonged to one of the aristocracy. Its rooms are so large and airy and its drainage so modern that it has served admirably, with little alteration. In the fall of 1929, it was decided to change this institution into a permanent experimental nursery for children under one year of age, thereby collecting all the abandoned and orphaned infants into one building. In the spring of 1931, Dr. Rudnic's institution accommodated 150 children under one year of age. Of this number 70% were abandoned and the remaining 30% orphaned. Whenever an abandoned child is found it is immediately brought to a House of Child and is cared for until it is adopted or grows up. Eventually 10-15% of these children are adopted permanently, but that only after they have been proved normal in all respects. No infant is admitted who suffers from any contageous disease and those with a venereal infection are sent to a special institution. However, many of the children show definite signs of mental deficiency and when they are older are cared for in feeble-minded asylums. In the House of Child under Dr. Rudnic's direction there are 2 resident physicians, 3 resident trained nurses, 17 baby nurses, and 9 wet nurses who always live in the building. It is interesting to note that the children who are fed by wet nurses are always weaned by the time they are three and a half months old, and occasionally before then they are given artificial feeding.

The problems of such an institution are quite different from those of an ordinary creche. There is no parental influence, so the psychologists could experiment with these children more freely than with children who spend most of their time at home, were it not that it requires almost all of the attention and time of the doctors and nurses to get them into a sound physical condition.

From time to time when an abandoned or orphaned child is found to be normally healthy and intelligent, he is cared for by a suitable family who is under the continual inspection of the Institute for the Protection of Mother and Child, thereby relieving the crowded conditions in the House of Child. Families taking in such children receive a certain amount of money every month for the child's care, and they are at liberty to return the child when they feel that they can no longer keep it. However, as has been pointed out most of the normal children from the "Houses of Child" are privately adopted before they reach four years of age; and in any case, whether adopted or not, remain wards of the State until they are eighteen. When they are adopted, their new homes are subject to periodic State inspection.

The particular "House of Child" under the direction of Dr. Rudnic is one of the finest nurseries I have ever seen in any country. The kitchens are especially impressive, for it is in them, that during the past ten years many of the Russian experiments on child diet have been carried out. The results of these experiments are given in the model diet suggested by the Institute for the Protection of Mother and Child for use in the ordinary creche and home. It is hoped that by continuing the present good care of abandoned and orphaned children, as well as of those children who live with their parents, there will soon be little necessity for institutions which care for abandoned children, and that the House of Child will be needed only for orphans.