A rehabilitation centre for street children in
Deprived children in Kyrgyzstan are a major concern for me. It
was only natural then that I wanted to co-fund an orphanage in Bishkek, the
country's capital. As the name implies, the centre offers help to orphans, but
also to street children who have "lost their way".
Kyrgyzstan has experienced periods of extreme difficulty— moving
from a socialist to a market economy, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and of
course the many revolutions. These changes raised existential questions and
many people sought refuge in drugs and alcohol. The consequences have of course
been devastating. Worse still, it is, as always, the children—society's most vulnerable
members—who have been hit hardest. Many of these children end up on the
Among other specialists, the centre recently recruited a
qualified psychologist who travels the city at night, speaking to children on
the streets to try and convince them to come to the centre. He really believes
in his work and wants the children to come of their own accord.
Often this is a success, since, deep down, the children are
happy to be given the chance to return to a normal life. It seemed only right
then to want to fund the salaries of psychologists in the years to come.
My strong relationship with the Justice Minister enabled me to
persuade him to sign a decree preventing street children who commit crimes from
being automatically sent to prison. As there are no special institutes for
adolescents and children, prison has disastrous consequences. Children simply
cannot be locked up with adults.
The police have now been informed of the new law. If a child is
arrested, they contact the centre and a worker comes to collect the child
immediately. If the child or teenager takes well to the centre and attends
school, the case is closed. Of course, this does not apply to repeat offenders.
This allows children who have committed a crime out of necessity, for example,
to return to humane living conditions. Every child "saved" this way
is a success and a major win for everyone involved.