Vienna, April 21 – Elena Mizulina, chair of the Duma Committee on the Family, Women and Children, said at a hearing last week that “there is not a single oblast [in Russia] where the rights of children are not being violated,” a tragic situation that the Kremlin is doing little to address even as it proclaims 2008 “The Year of the Family.”
Around the world, children often are “the most defenseless category of the population,” but in Russia, she said, no one is “hurrying to defend the rights” of Russia’s children who officials say last year suffered more than 500,000 violations of their rights (www.russ.ru/teksty/net_takoj_oblasti_gde_by_ne_narushalis_prava_rebenka).
And the government, she continued, shows little interest in supporting pro-active measures proposed by child welfare advocates -- including those who sit on Mizulina’s committee – preferring instead to employ its police powers only after crimes have been committed against children.
At present, Mizulina noted, children’s ombudsmen, officials charged with intervening with the courts on behalf of minors, exist in only 23 of the 84 federation subjects, even though a presidential decree specifies that all of them are to have them, and many of these ombudsmen lack adequate staffs and support.
Moreover, the Duma committee chair noted, the authorities have done little to ensure that children who are suffering from abuse of one kind or another know what their rights are and to whom they should appeal. Child defense advocates have urged that the government conduct an information campaign through libraries, experts have suggested.
Unfortunately, committee members said, not all children have access to libraries, and even those who do may not get the information they need. Consequently, the deputies called for the creation of independent advocates in the schools, not subordinate to the educational establishment and thus able to act against it when necessary.
One of these school ombudsmen, Nadezhda Garnish, told Russkiy zhurnal that she works with parents and teachers when possible but is quite prepared to turn to the courts if need be. Asked if that made her a kind of “Don Quixote” figure, she acknowledged that it does but said the rights of children were paramount.
Unfortunately, others pointed out that the problems of children in the Russian Federation today are far more serious: At the present time, there are approximately five million bezprizorniki, a Russian term for children living without parental supervision (www.snd-su.ru/cgi-in/rg.pl?param=div2&page=4&type=2158&what=1005).
That number by itself represents a savage indictment of Russian social policy under President Vladimir Putin as it is more than two and a half times the number in the USSR as a whole at the end of World War II and 15 to 20 times greater than the number of such unfortunates at the end of Soviet times.