Amendments to Russian family and civil legislation fail to get support

Amendments to the Russian family and civil legislation, which have been proposed in July 2020 and were aimed at “strengthening the institution of the family” were criticized by both human rights activists and experts from the State Duma, the lower house of Russian parliament.

Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” in its statement called not to adopt the bills that violated Russian and international legal principles and the rights of vulnerable groups, in particular LGBTI+ and minors.

The State Duma’s Security and Anti-Corruption Committee did not support the draft laws and pointed out that the proposed changes “could lead to a significant deterioration in the legal status of children and an unreasonable reduction in measures aimed at protecting them”. Thus, some amendments would lead to the impossibility of individual preventive work with minors in difficult life situations or who have committed legal offenses. The Committee members spoke out against the recognition of exclusively genetic mothers and fathers as parents, pointing out that the rights and obligations of adoptive parents vis-à-vis their adopted children were no different from the rights and obligations of genetic parents. The proposed transfer of a number of grounds for deprivation of parental rights into the grounds for restriction of parental rights may lead to serious harm to the life and health of children. For example, the draft proposed that child abuse was not to be considered a sufficient ground for deprivation or restriction of parental rights.

The Committee criticized the provision concerning respect for the family and moral values ​​of the peoples of Russia. This provision could be used to justify harmful practices, which are still common in traditional communities (i.e., early and forced marriages, bride kidnapping, forced deprivation of virginity and mutilation, such as female circumcision), which ADC Memorial had spoken about in its report to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The Legal Department of the State Duma in its conclusion has indicated that the proposed drafts required “substantial legal and technical revision”. For example, a proposal to narrow the “range of categories of children considered as children in difficult life situations”, a proposal to introduce the criterion of “the ability to formulate their views” when determining the child’s right to express their opinion and a reservation on the right and responsibility of parents to take care of the health and development of children “within the limits of their abilities and financial capabilities”, according to the legal experts, can lead to difficulties in law enforcement practice and can negatively affect the rights and legitimate interests of children. In addition, a number of proposed legal norms and terms contradicted the provisions, which are currently in place.

The Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights has also presented its opinion on the proposed legislative changes. Experts pointed out that the possibility of restricting parental rights for committing an offense or “other antisocial act” was not only “disproportionate interference with the parental rights of citizens” and a direct path to an increase in the number of orphans, but also ran the risk of being used as a repressive measure against parents with an active civic stance. The Council drew attention to the numerous violations of the rights of LGBTI+ people that the adoption of these draft laws entailed.

A ban not only on concluding same-sex marriages, but also the ban on recognition of same-sex marriages already registered in other countries, will deprive spouses of their family and civil rights. The proposal for the mandatory indication of gender marker already in the birth certificate at the time of birth without the possibility of changing it later affects not only transgender and intersex people, including those who wish or are already married, but also the children in such unions.

The Chairperson of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, in a letter addressed to the Chairperson of the Committee on Family, Women and Children, has indicated that the proposed draft laws could lead to violations of human rights and discrimination, and has urged to avoid accelerated consideration of these bills, while emphasizing the need for their revision and wider public discussion with participation of experts from different fields, as well as holding broad parliamentary hearings.