A scandal has broken in Belarus where nearly 100 children and young adults living in orphanages in the capital Minsk have been found on the brink of starvation.
Prosecutors, doctors and children’s home officials have revealed that severely malnourished children have lived in the homes for years.
Some weighed as little as 15 kilos; one 20-year-old was just 11.5 kilos.
Journalists discovered the children’s condition after being invited to a charity event.
Photos published in an online magazine shocked readers; some compared the images to wartime Nazi victims and expressed astonishment that in Europe in the 21st century sick children were suffering from such neglect and lack of food.
A criminal investigation has been launched. Prosecutors say they are the victims of neglect and malnutrition, and that several orphanage directors have been sacked.
Some orphanages have defended the treatment. One said that having spent their lives in bed, children could not walk – adding that the fact they were clean, fed and cared for was the “most important thing”.
But the director of children’s hospice blamed attitudes towards severely ill children. “They are fed, looked after, but they are treated as plants,” she said.