General information on Belarus

SOS Children’s Villages started working in Belarus after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. In co-operation with the "Children of Chernobyl" charity foundation, SOS Children's Villages started its work in the capital city of Minsk. As well as offering care in families, the attached social centre offers children, suffering from radiation damage, accommodation for the duration of their out-patient treatment. SOS Children’s Villages work has continued and it now runs programmes in three locations in Belarus.

 
Family life in SOS Children's Village Borovljany - photo: Marko Mägi
Family life in SOS Children's Village Borovljany - photo: Marko Mägi
Belarus is located in Eastern Europe and borders Lithuania and Latvia in the north-west, Russia in the east, Ukraine in the south and Poland in the west.
The population is 9.6 million (July 2011est.), of which nearly four fifths are Belorussian, 13 per cent are Russian and four per cent are Polish.

As a result of its close ties- both historical and present - with Russia, the country has two official languages: Belorussian and Russian. Belarus is a predominantly urban country with three quarters of the population residing in urban areas; Minsk, the capital city, is home to 1.8 million inhabitants.

Much of Belarus was destroyed during the Second World War and a quarter of the country’s population died. The first post-war Five-Year Plan repaired a lot of the war damage, and Minsk developed into the industrial hub of the USSR. Since 1986 Belarus has been badly affected by the Chernobyl nuclear power accident. Two thirds of the contamination fell on Belarussian territory and around one-fifth of the country was seriously contaminated. The nuclear explosion also affected political opinion, which turned against continued membership of the USSR. On 25 August 1991, the Communist Party issued a declaration of full national independence, but Belarus has maintained close political and economic ties to Moscow. Alexander Lukashenko was elected in the first presidential elections, and has remained in power since.

 

Creating a piece of art, SOS Children's Village Borovljany - photo: Benno Neeleman
Creating a piece of art, SOS Children's Village Borovljany - photo: Benno Neeleman

The recent social changes have affected family life and the lives of children.

According to UNICEF, five per cent of children under the age of 14 are forced to work, and a high percentage is also forced into marriage before they reach adulthood. Roma children, who tend to speak Romani and Belorussian are disadvantaged in an educational system which also uses Russian as the language of instruction.

Human trafficking affects children; the country is a source and transit point for girls forced to work in prostitution in Central and Western Europe. An increasing number of children are reported to be involved in child prostitution within Belarus itself.

Children who are most at risk of losing parental care are those with special needs and those who have been subject to abuse. Although more work is being done to support children within the family setting, institutionalisation remains the most common outcome in cases where children need protection.