On May 31, 1935, the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks adopted a resolution “On the Elimination of Child Homelessness and Neglect”. The document was one of the last steps in the fight against child homelessness, which was one of the most serious problems of Soviet society in the interwar period.

The consequences of war

“The massive homelessness in Soviet Russia was the result of World War I and the ensuing Civil War. It has become a real scourge of society, an army of orphans has appeared on the streets, ”said Yevgeny Spitsyn, historian and adviser to the MPGU rector, in an interview with RT.

During the revolutionary events of 1917, the system of charitable and orphan institutions that existed in the Russian Empire ceased to exist. In December of the same year, Vladimir Lenin signed a decree proclaiming the care of children as the direct duty of the state. In early 1918, the Council of People's Commissars created commissions for minors, which included pedagogical, social and medical workers, as well as representatives of the judiciary.

Since 1918, all issues of the development of education in the regions have been transferred to the jurisdiction of the GubONO (provincial departments of public education), which were departments of provincial executive committees and at the same time local bodies of the People's Commissariat of Education. Special institutions involved in the social rehabilitation of minors were sorely lacking.

In 1919, a decree was issued on the establishment of the Council of Child Defenders. He was engaged in the evacuation of children in the "grain areas", the organization of catering, food and material supplies. The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission began to be involved in this work.

“The participation of the Cheka was justified and logical. They had a well-developed apparatus on the ground. In addition, homelessness served as fertile ground for the occurrence of crime, ”said Spitsyn.

In 1920, a resolution was issued by the People's Commissariat of Education, which talked about the organization of receptions for street children, as well as providing them with treatment and nutrition. On January 27, 1921, the Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee created the Commission for the Improvement of the Life of Children, headed by the chairman of the Cheka and the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the RSFSR Felix Dzerzhinsky.

  • Felix Dzerzhinsky
  • RIA News

“In the early 1920s, the situation with homelessness became critical. It was a nationwide disaster. The expense of street children went to millions. In various sources, their number was estimated from 4.5 to 7 million people. Some children lost their parents, others lost during moving and evacuation, ”- said in an interview with RT, the head of the Department of Political Science and Sociology of REU named after G.V. Plekhanova Andrey Koshkin.

According to the expert, children who were left without permanent residence or parental supervision began to be sent to residential care facilities. To provide them with initial assistance, reception and distribution centers were created. Assistance in organizing the system for overcoming homelessness to Dzerzhinsky was provided by well-known Soviet teachers, in particular Anton Makarenko, who was later assigned by UNESCO to the number of people who determined the method of pedagogical thinking in the 20th century.

  • Registration of homeless children in the duty room of a school employee of the Moscow Department of Education
  • RIA News

“Given the scale of homelessness, the problems associated with it become a political issue. It was a test of the viability of the Soviet management system, the issue of the future of the whole country was being resolved, ”Koshkin emphasized.

“We are surrounded by a sea of ​​child sorrow”

The situation that developed with children's homelessness in the early 1920s, according to members of the Children's Commission, threatened "if not the extinction of the younger generation, then its physical and moral degeneration." The problem worsened amid drought and mass hunger in several regions of the RSFSR. Children without parental supervision suffered from infectious diseases and violence by criminals. Many of them joined the ranks of gangs, committing thefts, robberies and murders.

In 1921 alone, about 200 juvenile reception centers were created. We began to actively introduce the patronage, adoption, guardianship and guardianship, quotas for vocational training and employment of adolescents began to be introduced.

If in 1919 125 thousand children were brought up in orphanages, then in 1921-1922 it was already 540 thousand. In 1923, only in Moscow 15 thousand teachers were sent to combat homelessness.

In March 1924, the first conference on the fight against homelessness was held in Moscow, and in November a congress of heads of state departments for the fight against homelessness gathered.

“The point is not only that we are surrounded by a whole sea of ​​children's grief, but also that we risk getting these children from antisocial, antisocial people to the root of spoiled, enemies of a healthy lifestyle ... unprincipled people who leave with a light heart to the camp of our enemies, which will replenish the army of crime, ”said in one of his speeches, the people's commissar of education Anatoly Lunacharsky.

In 1925, the mass creation in the regions of Lenin funds began, involved in helping street children and orphans. In 17 provinces, the Friends of Children societies operated, which had their own canteens, tea houses, clubs and shelters. In total, more than 280 orphanages, 420 "labor communes" and 880 "children's towns" worked in the RSFSR at that time.

“To overcome homelessness, the Soviet authorities resorted to a variety of measures. The People's Commissariat of Railways actively helped to solve this problem. Railways and train stations attracted street children like a magnet. They were identified, given shelter, fed, taught. Orphans in the mid-1920s began to be sent to peasant families. Peasants who took care of the children were given additional plots of land, ”said Yevgeny Spitsyn.

In 1925-1926, a number of regulatory acts were passed in the USSR that protected children, including those providing benefits to minors who were left without parental supervision. A clear procedure was established for transferring children under guardianship. Enterprises and institutions engaged in the fight against homelessness received tax benefits.

“Despite the country's economic difficulties, millions of rubles were allocated to overcome homelessness. Both horizontal interagency and vertical cooperation aimed at resolving this problem were established, aimed at the regions. Many powers have been delegated to local education authorities. For educational purposes, art was used. Pupils of orphanages became heroes of famous books and films, ”said Andrei Koshkin.

According to him, in the first half of the 1930s, the level of homelessness began to rapidly decline.

  • Shot from the movie "Republic of ShKID"
  • © kinopoisk.ru

“Super efficient work”

On May 31, 1935, the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks adopted a resolution “On the Elimination of Child Homelessness and Neglect”. The document voiced a number of complaints against the executive authorities regarding the unsatisfactory work of orphanages, as well as the inadequacy of measures to combat juvenile delinquency and the irresponsibility of their guardians.

The document built a clear system of ordinary and special orphanages, as well as labor colonies and reception centers for minors. He streamlined the issues of vocational training and employment of adolescents, the internal routine in orphanages, and the promotion of distinguished children. Responsibility for the timely establishment and provision of orphans rested with local councils.

  • The building of the commune named after F. Dzerzhinsky
  • RIA News

For individuals who violated children's rights, the document established criminal liability. At the same time, the decree obliged the internal affairs agencies to step up the fight against offenses committed by minors themselves. The police received the right to fine parents for street hooliganism of children and raise the issue of forcibly placing minors in an orphanage "in cases where parents do not provide proper supervision of the child’s behavior."

A separate part of the decision obliged the department of cultural and educational work and the department of the press and publishing houses of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, the Central Committee of the National Communist Parties and the Councils of People's Union of the Union Republics to strengthen monitoring of children's literature and films that could have a harmful effect on children - for example, describing the adventures of criminals.  

“The measures taken in 1935 became the finish line in the fight against interwar homelessness. By the end of the 1930s, the problem was practically resolved, ”emphasized Andrei Koshkin.

  • Pupils of the orphanage
  • RIA News

According to Yevgeny Spitsyn, the second wave of homelessness in the USSR rose in connection with the events of the Great Patriotic War, but, despite the most difficult circumstances, it was easier to overcome it than the first - the experience gained during the interwar period affected.

“The way homelessness was overcome in Soviet Russia and the USSR was super-efficient work. A unique experience was accumulated, which was later used by other countries, and which can be used to overcome various kinds of social problems today, ”summed up Yevgeny Spitsyn.