Homeless Children

Homeless Children


minors who are completely separated from their families and lack a permanent place or residence and permanent occupation. Homelessness is the most extreme form of child neglect, which consists of the insufficient care and supervision of minors by parents or those who stand in loco parentis (insufficient guidance in character building and insufficient control over the use of leisure time, association with undesirable persons, and behavior). Homelessness and neglect present a threat of improper personality development in children and adolescents and create conditions in which socially negative patterns of behavior can develop and become ingrained in them.

In bourgeois society, social conditions condemn many thousands of children to be orphaned early, and even in the most advanced capitalist countries these children are often left to their own devices. The rise in the number of homeless and neglected children in capitalist countries is promoted by bourgeois ideology and the psychology of individualism, as well as the moral isolation of the individual from the interests of society. Because of the growing crisis of the family, a significant number of even those children who have parents are homeless or neglected.

A successful struggle against homelessness among children is possible only in a socialist society, where the social causes of the problem can be eliminated. From the very first days after the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution, serious measures were taken by the government of the USSR to overcome the problem of homeless children and its grave social consequences. A state system was established to provide social and legal protection and assistance to minors. Specialized agencies and institutions were founded to combat and prevent the homelessness of minors, including commissions for juvenile affairs, a social inspectorate dealing with children, foster-care centers, children’s homes, and communes. At Lenin’s suggestion, the State Council for the Protection of Children was established in February 1919 under the chairmanship of A. V. Lunarcharskii to carry out a comprehensive set of measures for the protection of the younger generation (Decree of Feb. 4, 1919, Collected Statutes of the RSFSR, 1919, no. 3, art. 32).

A particularly tense situation arose in the early 1920’s as a result of the negative effects on living conditions and child rearing of such consequences of the imperialist war and the Civil War as the loss of parents, epidemics, famine, and mass resettlement of populations. According to various statistics, in 1921, 4-6 million children required immediate state aid; in 1923, 2.5-4 million. On Jan. 27, 1921, the Commission for the Improvement of the Life of Children (the so-called Children’s Commission of the All-Union Central Executive Committee, headed by F. E. Dzerzhinskii), was established to unify and coordinate all departments for rendering aid to children and combating homelessness. Between 1921 and 1922, in the Volga Region alone, approximately 5 million children were given food and clothing, 150,000 were evacuated, and 200,000 were supported by units of the Red Army, trade unions, and peasant organizations. In 1923 more than 1 million orphans received assistance.

The network of foster-care centers offered preliminary social aid to the homeless and made preparations for their transfer to organized collective institutions (permanent children’s homes). In 1921 there were 175 foster-care centers, and in 1926, 284. In 1917, 30,000 children were being raised in children’s homes, colonies, and communes of various types (in 1919, 125,000; in 1921, 540,000). Many children’s homes, colonies, and communes became widely known for their structuring of the tasks of bringing up children and achieved success in raising homeless children. Among them were the M. Gorky Colony, the F. E. Dzerzhinskii Commune, the Prilutsk Work Commune, the Bolshevo Commune, and the Lopasnenia Novaia Zhizn’ Work Training Institute.

A number of government acts had great importance in furthering the struggle against homelessness, including a decree of the All-Union Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of Sept. 21,1925, which was entitled On Measures for Training Pupils at Children’s Homes for Vocational Work, and a decree of Apr. 5, 1926, entitled On the Procedures and Conditions for Assigning Foster Children to Peasant Families. Also of great importance was a decree of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of the People’s Commissars of the USSR of August 1926, entitled On Measures for Combating Homelessness. In 1924 the Lenin Fund for Aid to Homeless Children was established, and in 1926 the volunteer society Friend of Children was formed.

As a result of the work done by various state agencies and institutions, homelessness declined rapidly: in 1924 there were 280,000 homeless children in children’s homes, in 1926, 250,000, and in 1927-28, 159,000. By the mid-1930’s, homelessness had been eliminated among children. In 1935 the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the ACP (Bolshevik) observed in a decree that, taking into consideration the improved standard of living among the toiling people and the substantial number of institutions for children, the existence of a certain number of homeless children could be explained only by certain inadequacies in work to prevent homelessness. The decree emphasized the role of society in bringing up children, specified a set of measures to prevent homelessness and child neglect, devised steps to be taken to combat violation of the law by minors, and assigned greater responsibility to the parents for the upbringing of children.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), when many children lost their parents, the Soviet state, actively supported by the general public, found ways to prevent homelessness. The decree On the Placement of Children Without Parents, which was issued by the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR on Jan. 23, 1942, provided for the expansion of the network of children’s institutions, gave them top priority for supplies, and established regulations for the ways in which children would be cared for and returned to their families.

Today, there are practically no homeless children in the USSR. A series of measures has been carried out with careful planning to eliminate child neglect, increase the effectiveness of child rearing in the family and school, organize activities for the leisure time of minors, and establish social control over the behavior, associations, and use of leisure time of children and adolescents. Local agencies establish ten o’clock curfews, after which minors may not be on the streets or in other public places, and regulate their admittance to restaurants and cafes. The sale of alcoholic beverages to minors is forbidden. An individual may be held criminally responsible for luring children or adolescents into crime, drunkenness, vagrancy and begging, gambling, and prostitution (Criminal Code of the RSFSR, art. 210). The law makes parents or those to whom the upbringing of children is entrusted responsible for properly performing their duties in bringing up children, educating them, and preparing them for socially useful lives. If these duties are neglected, corrective measures are taken, which may include removal of the children from the parents or the abrogation of parental rights (Code of Laws on Marriage and the Family of the RSFSR, art. 52). Neglected adolescents and the families in which they are being raised fall within the jurisdiction of the children’s offices of the militia and commissions for the affairs of minors. These bodies do preventive work and, when necessary, apply corrective measures to the adolescent or his parents.


Dzerzhinskii, F. E. Izbrannye statï i rechi. Moscow, 1947.
Gernet, M. N. SotsiaVno-pravovaia okhrana detstva. Moscow, 1923.
Voprosy bor’by s prestupnostïiu, vol. 6. Moscow, 1967.
Krupskaia, N. K. O vospitanii i obuchenii. Moscow, 1946.


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