Azerbaijan announced a contest for best article on street children problem

Baku, Fineko/ “Other Shelter” Fund of Poland and NGOs have announced in Azerbaijan a contest among journalists on the theme “I am seeking a family”.

The Ministry of Labour & Social Protection of Azerbaijan informs that the project is financed by the Polish Embassy and US-Polish Fund “Freedom”.

“The project objective is to focus attention of the public on problems of gutter-children, their biological parents and families desiring to adopt children,” it was informed.

The contest receives articles and reports published in the media. The contest consists of three nominations: publication in the press, programme or reporting on any TV channel a programme or reporting on radio.

The prepared materials should touch one of the themes as follows: homelessness, pathologic families, children in boarding schools, children’s rights in foster homes, rights and commitments of biologic and foster family, problems and negative situation.

Money prize on each nomination for the best publication or programme makes AZN 300.

The works are received at the address: 85, S. Askerov St, Baku; AZ -1009; Ministry of Labour & Socila Protection, TACIS Project, until November 15, 2008.
Contact phones: (012) 596-50-39,  mob (070) 318-55-90, (055) 556-56-56


Azerbaijan State Committee on Family, Women, Children Requires Additional Authorities

Azerbaijan State Committee on Family, Women, Children Requires Additional Authorities

Azerbaijan, Baku / Тrend corr. S. Ilhamgizi / The State Commission on Family, Women, and Children Affairs requires additional authorities for controlling street-children, the Chairman of the State Commission, Hijran Huseynova, said at a press conference on 5 October.

According to her, Azerbaijan has no official statistical data on its street-children, because most of these children return to their families after some time. Educational institutes are also responsible for the problem. Most street-children go to secondary school, where control over attendance is poor, she said.

Residents of orphanages or children-homes and street-children are controlled by state bodies. Huseynova believes these authorities should be unified under one organization.

Some 202 street-children have been adopted since 2005. Children who outgrow orphanages (after they are fourteen years old) will be addressed in the Development Program for 2008-11.

Azerbaijan: Helping Street Children


Azerbaijan: Helping Street Children

In Azerbaijan, poor living standards have forced many children onto the streets. But UNICEF has piloted a project there to protect these children, and encourage them to return to their families and schools.

Like most of the former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan has struggled with its independence, which it gained in 1991. This small nation of eight million people on the Caspian Sea is battling widespread poverty and unemployment.

Children, in particular, are suffering from these conditions. It has given rise to a phenomenon unheard of during the Communist era: children who live and work on the streets. Dilara Babayeva, UNICEF’s child protection officer in Azerbaijan, says the number of children on the streets is increasing. "Many of these children are ending up on the streets due to poverty."

"Some of them have mothers, but no fathers, some have fathers, but no mothers," adds Sudaba Shiraliyeva, director of the children’s refuge in the capital, Baku. "They’re in difficult financial situations, and so, they are forced onto the streets to earn money for their families."

A post-Soviet problem

During the Soviet era, the phenomenon of street children simply did not exist. Babayeva, who helped start the first refuge for street children in Baku, explains that after gaining independence, the system of social protection and the system of services collapsed.

"During the Soviet system, there was a specific government plan and specific policy which was directed towards the welfare of each individual," she says. "But unfortunately, after gaining independence, this old system just collapsed and there is no alternative, which could — which should — replace this system."

Shiraliyeva says that far from improving, the situation with street children is getting steadily worse. "It is rather a serious problem." But, she adds, the government is not necessarily to blame. "It is a sign of the times. Azerbaijan is a young republic and that’s why this problem exists." The phenomenon of street children appeared in all the former Soviet republics, she says.

"We simply don’t have the means."

In Baku, the children’s refuge welcomes about 50 or 60 children every day. Shiraliyeva says it is mainly boys, who live and work on the streets.

Boys in a poor neighborhood in BakuBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Boys in a poor neighborhood in BakuThese boys face a major problem when they reach the age of 18. "They have nothing to do, they can’t find work and so they can’t eat," she says. "They need some sort of profession."

For example, one of the children wants to be a photographer, one wants to be a jeweller, another wants to be a cameraman. "Their greatest desire is to have a proper profession. But we can’t offer them opportunities like that," Shiraliyeva says. "We simply don’t have the means."

Giving children hope

As well as providing the children with a hot meal and somewhere to warm up, the refuge tries to encourage them to return to their families. "We have a team of psychologists who work with them, talk to them about their lives and their problems," Shiraliyeva says. "These children aren’t without hope. It is possible for them to return to ordinary lives. They have the same interests as other children."

A UNICEF-assisted kindergarten in AzerbaijanBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  A UNICEF-assisted kindergarten in AzerbaijanNevertheless, many of the children have problems with their development, she says. "Some of the children have difficulties reading and writing. We try to help them improve these skills. Some of them don’t even know the different colors, so we teach them those. A lot of them have simply missed out on their childhoods and so we try to get them to do the things children ought to do, like drawing and painting."

However, Shiraliyeva’s work is anything but easy for her personally. "It’s very hard to see these children in such a miserable situation. I am human, too. When it’s freezing cold, it breaks your heart to see children out on the street washing cars," she says. "They come here and they need to be properly fed, they need to be properly clothed. But we simply don’t have the means to feed and clothe all of Azerbaijan’s street children."


Chloe Arnold

Azerbaijan probes child-organ traffickers

Organ in a bag

Organ trafficking is a problem in some former Soviet states

The Azerbaijani government says it is keen to crack down on child traffickers who are believed to take children abroad and sell their organs for profit.

National Security Minister Namiq Abbasov said the authorities were investigating reports that sick children were being taken abroad for medical treatment and adoption and then being used for human transplants.

"Under the guise of adoption, children who are allegedly afflicted by grave diseases are taken out of Azerbaijan, ostensibly for treatment," Mr Abbasov told the country’s ANS television.

"In the course of our investigations, it has come to light that these children are used for organ transplants, but we have no hard evidence," he said.

The results of the investigations would be passed to the Interior Ministry and prosecutors, he said.

Mr Abbasov acknowledged that people trafficking was a problem in Azerbaijan and other states of the former Soviet Union.


Azerbaijan’s ANS TV station has been investigating whether it is possible to take a child abroad from Azerbaijan and use his internal organs for transplantation.

Evil people can achieve what they want without any documents

ANS TV presenter

Its report concluded that "official arbitrariness in this sphere allows unprotected small children to be illegally taken out of the country".

A lawyer told the station that although the adoption process in Azerbaijan was technically free of charge, it was necessary to pay bribes to finalise the process, increasing the likelihood of children falling into the wrong hands and being spirited away illegally.

A 12-year-old boy called Muzaffar told reporters he had come to Baku from an impoverished rural area to earn money and would gladly go abroad with anyone who offered to take him.

"But Muzaffar is unaware that his organs might be taken out and sold. We were the first to inform him of such a likelihood," the presenter said.

An official from a leading international non-governmental organisation, who asked to remain anonymous, said more than 100 children had disappeared in transit between orphanages and hospitals in 2003, blaming it on official corruption.

Children in an Azeri orphanage

Orphanages are accused of corruption

The official complained that the authorities were unwilling to disclose information about child disappearances and the adoption issue in general.

According to the UN agency for children, Unicef, about 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide each year in a thriving business worth $10bn, and it is getting worse.

The International Campaign against Child Trafficking (ICACT) points out that children are not only trafficked for their organs and body parts but for a variety of illegal purposes, including sexual exploitation, adoption by childless couples, begging and transporting drugs.

Street children

Another related issue in Azerbaijan is the phenomenon of street children, which was unheard of in Soviet times.

After gaining independence, the old system just collapsed and there is no alternative to replace it

Unicef child protection officer Dilara Babayeva

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the social welfare system ceased to operate effectively in Azerbaijan, forcing many children onto the streets and making them vulnerable to exploitation, according to Unicef child protection officer Dilara Babayeva.

"During the Soviet system, there was a specific government plan and specific policy which was directed towards the welfare of each individual," she said. "But unfortunately, after gaining independence, this old system just collapsed and there is no alternative, which could – which should – replace it."


Konul Khalilova: 5/08/02

While Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev negotiates over access to the Caspian Sea and tries to promote pipeline development in his country, children in the streets of the capital often make a simpler request: "Please give me money." One homeless Baku youth, Fagan, strolled recently near the 20th of January metro station. "We came from Yevlakh," Fagan, 11, said. "We are in debt, my mother is ill and my father is in Russia." Fagan and his two brothers, one 13 and the other 16, are all engaged in begging for money. "What can we do?" Fagan says. "A man we are indebted to comes every week and demands money."

Fagan lives in the Bileceri district with his mother and brothers. He didn’t want to say how much he earns in a day, but whispers that he has to pay out half of this money as ’protection’ for working on the street. His story is more common than ever. In Soviet times, to call someone a "street child" amounted to an insulting exaggeration. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, it has become more and more a descriptive term. According to UNICEF, which has been researching Baku street children since 1996, 47 percent of the capital’s homeless youth are orphans, a third have only one parent, and only one in five came from two-parent households.

Nigar Mansimli founded the "Umid Yeri" (Place of Hope) home for street children in 1997. She says that many street children are refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh war of the early 1990s. Mamed, 10, says he was a baby when he became a refugee. "I lost my father in the war, and my mother is ill. Now I am begging for money," he says. Though Mamed lives in a hostel, he still begs in order to pay for food.

Even children with shelter beg for cash. "The main reason forcing children to go on to the streets is that they need money for their daily bread," says Tamilla Zeynalova, chairperson of the Children’s Committee of the Helsinki Commission for Human Rights in Azerbaijan.

Street children often have found themselves suddenly responsible for ensuring their own survival. Ilaha, 13, and Samir, 9, came to Umid Yeri claiming that their mother had died. "At first we didn’t believe them, but we went with them to the basement where they live and found their mother’s body," says Farida Najafzadeh, the group’s vice chairperson, "Can you imagine the condition of these children, sleeping in a box where hens laid their eggs?" Najafzadeh says that the dead woman appeared to have been beaten to death. Her children had no idea who killed her, she says.

Another child, Zarifa, lived in the streets with her mother before coming to Umid Yeri. "My father’s relatives put us out of the house after his death," Zarifa says. "She says her mother is in Turkey now. "She will come," she says. "She has no money to come now, but she calls me often."

Mansimli says she founded Umid Yeri so that the street children could have a transitional place for social and psychological support. "Fifty children can live in this house," Mansimli says, adding that the home began by housing only two children. "When we started we walked the streets at night and talked to the street children. Sometimes they agreed to come here, and sometimes not. But now every street child in Baku knows about this place, and comes here to eat and wash," she says. The home cannot accommodate all the city’s street children, says the director – and some decline to live there.

Beggars often have no other moneymaking skill. Kamala Aghayeva, who researches social conditions at the Azerbaijan Children’s, says street children need special schools and intensive attention. "The government is responsible for this work," she says. Dr. Tamara Dadashova chairs a childcare organization called "Sorge" (German for "care") and heads the Hematology Department in the Republic Children’s Hospital. She sees social problems driving children to the streets. "When both parents cannot find a job they send their child to the streets to earn money," she says.

But the state’s weak public health system also hurts the children, Dr. Dadashova says. "The street children who earn money washing old cars can inhale toxic fumes," she explains, adding that she thinks there is a greater incidence of blood diseases among the street kids. Other childcare specialists tend to agree, adding the more common health risks, such as cold winter weather. "How we can speak about the health of these children when they can’t wear jackets in the winter?" Aghayeva says. The state receives aid from many sources, but the presence of 700,000 refugees stretches this aid very thin.

Some adults who control gangs of street children, calling themselves "uncles," also intercept kids who might otherwise seek help. According to Aghayeva, adults "use the street children for collecting money" and keep them in cellars and other hideaways. "People who lead the children know that [some]one will give money when a child begs," she says. They also know that children will depend on them. "[One boy] said his so-called ’uncle’ has a Mercedes and they have a group in the airport where they beg for money," Aghayeva says.

Children also reportedly pay protection to their uncles from what they collect at transit stations. The adults frighten children from revealing information, says Aghayeva. "When we were talking to them they were scared to speak out, and nervously looked around from side to side."

As children grow up on the streets, pathologies develop. Zeynalova of the Helsinki Commission says that a new, criminal generation is growing up in Azerbaijan. "They will take revenge on society which is indifferent to their life," she warns, adding that the street is a good training ground for criminal gangs. "There are a lot of thieves and drug addicts among the street children."

Increasingly, workers also hear reports of rape and sexual abuse. "Sometimes we see beaten and raped children among those who came to the Helsinki office," says Zeynalova. "There are big men who rape children. And girls say that street ’protectors’ rape them too." Aghayeva says she met two teenage girls pretending to be mutes at a Metro station. After addressing the girls, she says she found out they were rape victims carrying out a con for $3.

Aghayeva calls for urgent action, including the setting up of a state committee, to solve the problems facing street children. For now, though, even tabulating the number of street children is difficult because children often refuse to answer questions.