MOSCOW, May 17 (RIA Novosti) – Russian authorities have launched a criminal case into the suspected beating of children by teenage caretakers in a Far Eastern orphanage on Friday, a day after a video sparked internet outrage.
The video, made in the orphanage in the town of Pionersky in the Far Eastern Amur Region, shows a teenage girl who lashes boys aged between seven and nine with a belt. Seven boys are lined up against a wall as she calls the children forward one by one, beats them and shoves them away.
Police opened a criminal case on charges of torture, which entail a maximum punishment of seven years in prison. Three girls, aged between 15 and 17 are seen as likely suspects. Two of them were taken to a detention facility for minors. The third teenager, who is under 16 years – the age of criminal responsibility on these charges – was hospitalized for reasons not related to the incident.
The involvement of the fourth girl, who recorded the video on her mobile phone and posted it on a social networking website, is now being probed. The girl was staying with her relatives at the moment when the scandal broke out, and did not return to the orphanage in time. She is currently being searched for.
Ten children, who are listed as victims in the case, told police that they were beaten up regularly, local prosecutors said on their website. A medical examination revealed that all of them had numerous “injuries consistent with beating – scratches and bruises,” district prosecutor Yevgeny Petrov said.
Employees and management of the orphanage say they were unaware of the beating, a claim dismissed by Russian child ombudsman Pavel Astakhov. The region’s governor Oleg Kozhemyako ruled to suspend from work three teachers and the head of the orphanage.
A probe was launched into whether employees of the orphanage performed their duties properly, but no charges were laid so far.
Astakhov wrote in his Twitter that both the regional authorities and employees of the orphanage were equally responsible for the incident. According to the ombudsman, his envoy to the Amur Region found six different video clips showing violence against children.
“In fact, at least six criminal episodes of children being tortured in the orphanage have been established. It is almost impossible that teachers knew nothing about it,” Astakhov said. “If they knew it and kept silent about it, or, even worse, encouraged such “relations” between older and younger children, then this might constitute another criminal case.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity with the Amur.info portal of local news, an employee who was not involved in raising children suggested all workers were aware of the beating. She said she had repeatedly informed the director of the orphanage about screams being heard from the children’s dormitory.
The woman also recalled that when she tried to talk to one of the girls about her behavior, she answered: “I was beaten, and so I will beat others.”
Astakhov, in his turn, described the orphanage as a place where a “prison-like behavior” has become deeply rooted, and suggested closing the facility.
“In such cases, when multiple criminal episodes have been established, an orphanage should be disbanded and children sent for treatment and rehabilitation,” he said.
The Russian Investigative Committee ordered inspections in all orphanages in the region.
The scandal, which has again highlighted the poor condition of Russia’s orphanage system, comes against the background of tense public disputes on issues of child welfare and domestic adoptions in the country. The debate was sparked by Russia’s decision to halt the adoption of Russian children by US citizens late last year.