After having considered the official report of the Russian Federation in January 2014 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has made important recommendations that are obligatory for fulfillment. Russia, as a participant of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, also has an obligation to broadcast these recommendations to the society, the ministries in charge of children, state officials, deputies of parliament and the president of the Russian Federation.
It was reported that on February 17, 2014 president Vladimir Putin has visited the city of Cherepovets in order to chair the meeting of the presidium of the State Council devoted to “State policies concerning family, motherhood and childhood”. It was expected that among other things the recommendation of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child would be discussed there, as it was a perfect possibility to inform the public and state officials about the measures Russia has to adopt in accordance with its international obligations.
However, these expectations were not met. The main topic, which was discussed with both the workers of Cherepovets steel plant and the state officials who were present at the meeting of the State Council, were the positive demographic tendencies and how to sustain them (welfare payments for the mothers, support for pregnant women, employment for mothers, childcare, etc.). But given the broader context of the necessity to defend the rights of the child and the position of the UN Committee on the rights of the child, which works with various countries, including those where birth rates are very high, one can ask: whose interests exactly the Russian state really cares about?
Officials were discussing the recently born children or the ones that are about to be born, but what they really meant was that these births were good for the country because these new people will be working, paying taxes, sustaining the retired people, etc. Even when the officials were talking about new families for the orphaned children, problems of children with disabilities or children coming from disadvantaged families, their focus was a strictly economic one.
Economic accent was evident even during the discussion of such topics as “devaluation of family values” and how to fight back against the growing number of unregistered marriages, the growth of the number of divorces, etc. Governor of Volgograd region Kuvshinnikov and the speaker of the upper house of parliament Matviyenko proposed to fight back against these problems through propaganda of family values through mass media and bringing up of family-oriented persons. It was stated that children born outside of marriage were economically more costly than those born in full families in terms of welfare payments provided to their mothers. Given the recent legislative initiatives of the “United Russia” party, it is hard to understand how they are going to bring up a person oriented towards family and childbirth without proper sexual education, which these politicians now consider to be “propaganda of sexual relations” and which may soon be banned.
Valentina Matviyenko has unwillingly touched upon some of the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Right of the Child when she spoke on the necessity of introducing changes into the Family Code and the Civil Code and stated that taking a child from his parents should be resorted to only as an extreme measure, while the rights of children should be properly guaranteed in case of their parents’ divorce. But the recommendations of the UN Committee were not mentioned explicitly at the meeting in spite of the fact that the Russian ombudsman for children’s rights Pavel Astakhov was present both at this meeting and the earlier meeting of the UN Committee in Geneva and could have reminded the participants about such an important topic, as well as informed the participants of the State Council about the Committee’s evaluation of the state of children’s rights in Russia. But this simply didn’t happen at the meeting in Cherepovets, probably because the point of view of the Russian state officials on the problems of children is as “sovereign”, as their concept of Russian “sovereign democracy”, i.e. that the international obligations are largely ignored and are remembered only in case they coincide with Russia’s own national initiatives.
Children, – the already living children as opposed to those potential children, destined to bridge the demographic gap in Russia, – are human beings, not economic units, and many of them find themselves facing various dangers, as in case of children with disabilities, children from immigrant families, ethnic minorities, Roma people, indigenous people in the Far North, girls in the Northern Caucasus, children whose mothers are in prison, etc. It is these children in difficult life circumstances and their rights that the state should be a matter of concern as is required by the international responsibilities agreed by Russia as a member of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
by Olga Abramenko