Children are feared and considered fools

On the eve of the International Day of the Rights of the Child (June 1st), an interesting discussion of the informational rights and needs of children has arisen in Russia. Valeriy Fadeyev, the Chairman of Russia’s presidential Council for Human Rights (CHR), raised concerns that the virtual voice assistants “Alisa” (designed by Yandex) and “Marusya” (designed by VK) “hesitate to answer” questions about the jurisdiction of the Donbass region and about the events in Bucha. Fadeyev called this “the very important ideological question of a nation’s relationship to its history.” Another member of the CHR, Igor Ashmanov, supported his colleague, asserting that such ambiguity on the part of virtual assistants is especially dangerous to children: “A child must have one answer. It is the same with history – you must not, even if you are talking to an adolescent, give them multiple points of view.”

The adults who are officially entrusted with thinking about human rights clearly think that children are fools, believing, apparently, that children are just as incapable of using information technology as they are themselves. Ashmanov and Fadeyev clearly think that if adolescents are given “one answer” online, they will not discover the existence of other possible answers. An even more laughable situation arose when prosecutors from the Krasnoyarsk region nearly banned a book of children’s poems by Grigoriy Oster, seeing danger for children in the humorous drawings of pirates and similar “cruelty.”

It is difficult to frighten children (unlike adults in uniform) with drawings of bloodthirsty pirates: children know a lot about cruelty – and not at all from gentle and ironic poems with colorful illustrations. And people in uniforms know it well: they terrorize children in police stations, in children’s reception centers, in juvies, and in prisons. Here is a selection of videos from places where children are not free:

Among such places are the children’s reception centers, or TDCs/TDCJOs (Temporary Detention Centers for Juvenile Offenders), of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Why these centers exist at all has long been unclear. At one point, in the 1920s to 1930s, the Soviet state established such reception centers for children to resolve the issues of the mass detention of homeless children and of mass repressions, in which parents were arrested and children were sent to orphanages for “children of enemies of the state,” before which they were taken by night to these “reception centers.” It has long been clear that there is no longer any need for TDCs: if it is necessary to take a minor into custody for a criminal offense (which, of course, should only be done in exceptional cases involving serious crimes committed by older adolescents), the court is perfectly capable of sending the minor to prison, which often happens. Many prisons have rooms for juvenile defendants: creating the special conditions necessary for the protection of children’s rights is possible even there.

For administrative offenses, children should not be incarcerated anywhere. There are fewer homeless children now, but if such children are found (or if children are, for some reason, suddenly left without responsible adults), they should be placed in social institutions or in temporary foster families, and not under police supervision.

There are, however, no plans to close the TDCs. On the contrary, this spring, the Russian government approved a draft law to expand their authority – which, it seems clear, will also lead to an increase in spending on pointless places where children are deprived of their freedom. If the draft law is passed, children will be sent to reception centers for minor violations, including running away from orphanages. At the same time, TDCs will retain their existing function as places for the punishment of children who commit criminal offenses; that is, adolescents who have committed real crimes will be detained alongside children who have been arrested for disciplinary violations – or for violations of the administrative code. We have often tried to understand how judges decide whether to send juvenile offenders (who have been accused of theft, assault, etc.) to prison or to a reception center, but neither judicial practice nor legal theory gives an answer to this question.

It would seem that judges’ arbitrary practice in this issue should be regulated, at least by stripping the TDCs of their function as alternatives to prison for those accused of violations of the criminal code. Yet the new draft law does not, apparently, provide for this. In fact, the proposed law would expand to all adolescents the rules that have long applied to foreign minors, who are often sent to TDCs for administrative violations of migration regulations. This is known as “immigration detention of children” and is considered an unacceptable violation of children’s rights. In Joint General Comment No. 4 of the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and No. 23 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2017), Paragraph 5 states:

“Children should never be detained for reasons related to their or their parents’ status as migrants…States should expeditiously and completely cease or eradicate the immigration detention of children. Any kind of child immigration detention should be forbidden by law and such prohibition should be fully implemented in practice.”

Unfortunately, Russia has not only failed to comply with this demand but is in fact strengthening the authority of the entirely unnecessary TDCs, contrary to the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which, in 2024, again expressed its concerns about the violation of children’s rights in closed institutions and within the walls of law enforcement agencies.

Stefania KULAEVA,
first published on the Radio Liberty blog