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Russian orphans: Reality television to the rescue?

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MOSCOW — Russia has a problem placing orphans. But a federal government oversight body has a plan to fix that — with reality television.

That the genre better known for the money-driven antics of Russia’s “Big Brother” spinoff, to the love triangles of the home-construction-centered “House” series, to the salacious and sometimes disturbing narratives of “Don’t Lie to Me” would be part of an official plan to open hearts and homes to abandoned children might seem a stretch. Maybe even teetering on the edge of exploitative.

But Public Chamber member Yulia Zimov is sure that the “Special Forces for Adoption” series she has in mind will actually help popularize adoptions and draw in prospective parents, according to a report in Russia’s Izvestia newspaper Tuesday.

Zimov told the paper there is “a whole database” of adoptive parents ready to let cameras into their homes to record their daily routines with their adopted children. The database, she said, also includes families hosting foster children.

All they need now is a Russian television station willing to produce a high-quality show.

The initial response from Russian television executives interviewed was positive but non-committal. Russian Public Television’s general director Anatoly Lysenko, also interviewed in the Izvestia article, spoke highly of social responsibility in television programming and the idea of featuring more adoption stories, but also raised concerns about audience interest and sufficient funding.

Many Russian orphans end up in orphanages, and the reviews of those establishments are not terribly uplifting. A recent Human Rights Watch report found that disabled children especially may face violence and neglect on the part of staff. The report also touched on the phenomenon of over-institutionalization, pointing out that about 95 percent of children in the Russian orphanage system have at least one living parent.

In recent years, the Russian government has significantly limited the opportunities for children to enter international adoptions. U.S. adoptions have been banned since late 2012, and both gay couples and single parents from countries where gay marriage is legal have been prohibited from adopting Russian children since early 2014.

According to statistics published online by the Ministry of Education and Science, there were fewer newly abandoned children in 2013 than in 2012. But overall, the number of children in the Russian foster care system grew, by about 2.4 percent.