Almost 100 children and young people were discovered on the verge of starvation in orphanages in Belarus, as per reports. Weight of some of the teenagers have been found to be as little as 15kg (2st 5lb) and one 20-year-old was just 11.5kg.
The scandal came to light when journalists were invited by a paediatrician from one of the affected institutions to cover a charity football match in order to raise money for specialist nutrition for orphans.
Images from the homes in the capital, Minsk, recall other episodes of neglected children in the region, particularly the Romanian orphan scandal of the early 1990s.
The authorities have launched an investigation into how children ended up in such a life-threatening state. Prosecutors say they are the victims of neglect and malnutrition, and that several orphanage directors have been fired.
Orphanages have countered by saying that the children’s physical frailty is because of psychological problems.
“These children have never walked. They are constantly in bed. They don’t have muscles,” said the director of the Cherven orphanage, Ella Borisova. “Their legs are toothpicks covered with skin.
“Such a child will never stand up and walk with or without enteral [special calorie-rich] nutrition. So, for our institution the fact that this child is clean, dry, fed and gets medical help in time is the most important thing.”
Revolted readers likened the images to wartime Nazi victims. “As if you are in Buchenwald concentration camp,” was one comment. “How can it be that in the centre of Europe in the 21st century there is no proper food for sick children?” another reader asked.
The prosecutor’s office told local media, “If regular medical checks involving dedicated experts had taken place, the abnormal condition of the children would have been obvious.”
Anna Gorchakova, director of a children’s hospice, believes the scandal arose not only because of poor institutional management but also because of the common attitude to severely ill children. “They are fed, looked after, but they are treated as plants,” she said.