Belarusian court ruled to return child to a woman with disability

Lawyers of the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities (Belarus) with the support of the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” in April 2020 won the ruling of the court of second instance in a case concerning removal of a child from his mother with mental disorder.

Back in April 2019, local municipal authorities took the child from Olga Korzun due to the fact that she was a disabled person diagnosed with a 2nd degree mental disorder. Olga Korzun had been assisted by her mother in raising her 5-year-old son, however, five days after her mother’s death, local authorities decided that Korzun would not be able to raise the child on her own. The boy was then sent to a family-type residential care, and the municipal authorities filed a lawsuit requesting the removal of the child from his mother (without depriving her of parental rights) based on Korzun’s medical diagnosis. In July 2019, the district court ruled to remove the child from Korzun.

The Office for the rights of persons with disabilities appealed this court decision with a court of higher instance, indicating that Olga Korzun had positive references, that she had not committed any wrongdoing and that she had been mistakenly diagnosed with mental disorder 10 years ago. As part of the preparation of the consideration of the complaint in court, the Office was able to carry out an alternative examination for Olga Korzun at the Independent Psychiatric Association in the Russian Federation. This independent psychiatric evaluation, which was then followed by official state psychiatric examination ordered by the court, confirmed that Olga Korzun had the skills of taking care for herself and was capable of independent life and did not pose a threat to her child.

The court of second instance indicated that the court of first instance had made its ruling in violation of the law of substance and the procedural laws. The court also indicated that, in accordance with the Code on Marriage and Family of the Republic of Belarus, a child could be taken away from parents only if his/her further residence with them was dangerous for him/her. Having taken into account the results of the medical examinations and all the files, which had been studied, the court of second instance overruled the earlier court decision and ruled to return the child to his mother. Based on this, in April 2020, the earlier decision of the municipal authorities was also canceled, and Olga Korzun reunited with her son.

Unfortunately, removal of children from their families by social services is widespread in Belarus. The list of diseases approved by the Belarusian Ministry of Health serves as the basis for deprivation of parental rights and it indicates which parents cannot fulfill their parental responsibilities. This practice seriously violates the rights of the child and discriminates against people with disabilities, as the mere presence of a disorder in a parent cannot be the sole basis for the removal of children from family. The only reason for such a profound interference into family life can be a threat to the life, safety and health of the child. This had been stated earlier by the Ministry of Health of Belarus. The list of diseases itself had adopted in accordance with the Code on Marriage and Family as a basis for exempting parents from reimbursing the state for the cost of keeping their children in state-run institutions, but is not a list of grounds for removing children from families.