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Without a Family: Public Order, Social Welfare and Street Children in the Wartime Soviet Union

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Abstract

Homeless and delinquent children presented a serious problem for public order in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Even though on paper the government was committed to re-socialisation of street children, in practice it was a low priority for the state, busy fighting a war. The state's interventionist policies were more about exercising control over the population than protecting the children from the hardships of war. Inattentive to the consequences of its actions, the system not only undermined its own child welfare programme by producing additional orphans and displaced children, but also continued to spawn street urchins and delinquents through poor administration of criminal justice, the criminalisation of labour violations and the ineffective management of local resources. As a result, not only did the Stalinist state fail to live up to the image of an “extended family”, it had taken upon itself, but it also enacted some of the most abusive policies in the history of Soviet child welfare, sending out public volunteers to clean up the mess afterwards.

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