Un-convent-ional treatment

Allegations of child abuse in a convent school in central Russia: pupils are said to have been suffering from harsh treatment.

One of the convents in central Russia has made headlines after accusations of victimizing children from a boarding school based at the convent. Former students of the Svyato-Bogolyubovsky convent said that the nuns beat the children with belts and forced them to make hundreds of bows, as well as deprived them of food and sleep as "punishments".

“They beat us often, sometimes three times a day, 40 lashes each time,” recalled Ksenia Golovchenko, a former convent boarding student. “Once it was even 103 lashes for one girl. We cried every day. Our eyes were never dry, and always puffy. We would always have headaches from crying so much. And we had no one to complain to.”

“I tried to escape but they’d force me to come back,” said another former student, Stepan Vus. “I fought back, but could not really do anything. They shoved me in the car and took me back there.”

“One girl was hit with a garden tool and now has a spinal injury, which she will have to live with for the rest of her life,” said Vladimir Rysev, head of the Suzdal district of the Vladimir diocese, who is taking care of the teenagers now. “They would make kids eat a cup of salt or stand on a stool all night reading psalms, and they were not allowed to sleep. Or [they would have to] kneel down on a tray with nails. One girl was forced to put her hand in a hot oven.”

This is not the first time the convent has been accused of child abuse. It was investigated a year ago after claims of mistreatment, but then no action was taken. Reports indicate that in 11 years of the school’s work, around 40 children had to flee. According to various sources, at least ten teenagers are still hidden in several hermitages around the convent.

The convent has denied the allegations.

According to child rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov, in cases with religious upbringing it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between religious obedience and abuse.

“Life in a convent is, in fact, very tough,” said child rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov. “Religious obedience sometimes demands physically taxing actions that can easily be confused with abuse, but that does not mean that abuse is really there, because a person only accepts such a life voluntarily and in case of a child, with the parents’ approval.”

Prosecutors are looking into the claims of child abuse. The Russian ombudsman for children's rights has sent an aide to the central Vladimir Region to investigate the reports of mistreatment. The Moscow Patriarchate has also pledged to examine the situation thoroughly.