Discussion of alternative reports to the UN Committee on the rights of children in the Ministry of labor

ADC “Memorial” has published report to the UN Committee for Children’s Rights concerning the problems of children coming from vulnerable groups. Appendices to the report were prepared together with LGBT organization “Vykhod” (Coming Out) and the Russian LGBT Network. Publication of the report was also supported by the “Central Asia on the Move” Platform.

Before the discussion of the official report of the Russian Federation at the Committee’s session in Geneva on January 23-24, 2014, the Russian Ministry of labor and social security has carried out a roundtable discussion of alternative reports with their authors and NGOs, which had provided their materials to the Committee.

Olga Abramenko took part in the roundtable discussion on January 17, 2014, and presented report of  ADC “Memorial” on the situation of children from vulnerable groups. She has pointed attention of the members of the official Russian delegation to the session of the UN Committee to the problem of access to secondary school education for children from immigrant families, whose period of stay in Russia is legally limited to 90 days and doesn’t correspond to the period of stay of their parents in Russia (who usually have work permits for one or three years). As a result of that immigrant parents have to leave the country with their children every 90 days, so that the children can receive new immigration cards, the lack of which prevents them from entering Russian schools. Thus, their education is interrupted, and often the parents do not have the possibility to leave Russia and return back, so the children are de facto excluded from the school education.

In response to this deputy minister of labor A.Vovchenko said that it was a conscious choice of parents – to come to Russia with their children, and the ministry receives a lot of complaints from Russian parents that too many immigrant children attend Russian schools. Representative of the procurator general’s office M.Zaytseva reported that children of highly qualified professionals have possibilities to stay in Russia during the whole period of their parents’ stay. Olga Abramenko responded that this was a proof of discrimination of the children of less qualified immigrant parents compared to higher qualified parents. It also proved violation of children’s right to live with their families for all children staying in the Russian Federation, which is guaranteed by the Convention on the rights of the child  regardless of their citizenship, status and registration.

Another issue raised by ADC “Memorial”, that of segregation of Roma children in Russian schools, lead to a very emotional discussion. Members of the official Russian delegation to the UN Committee session were of the opinion that the report had presented only “some particular cases” related to violation of children’s rights. Olga Abramenko described in greater detail the situation in the Roma settlements in Russia and pointed out that segregation of Roma children is practiced everywhere, which resulted in poor education that the children received and the impossibility of continuing education further. She stated that there had been some positive examples of schools where the practice of establishing segregated classes for Roma children had been abolished, and that this had already resulted in some positive developments. In these schools more and more Roma children successfully completed 9-year education cycle, there were some rare cases when Roma teenagers had become college students, but only when they had studied in mixed, non-segregated classes. Representatives of the Ministry of education, the apparatus of ombudsman for the rights of children and the general procurator’s office complained that they hadn’t receive a single complaint concerning segregation and that they considered it to be a result of deficiency in the work of non-governmental organizations and the parents of Roma children. They called on the latter to make appeals “to the very top” in case segregation occurred. Olga Abramenko responded to this by stressing that the problem should be addressed at the local level, while at the same time it was the controlling state bodies, including the Russian education control board and the procurator’s office, that should show more initiative and should monitor violations of children’s rights. She said that if the problem could be dealt with only by means of appealing “to the very top”, this was a sign of ineffective work of the state system.

However, some points also needed clarification. For example, a “particular case” of segregation of Roma children in Leningrad region was presented in the official Russian report to the UN committee as a positive example of work with the local population. Olga Abramenko explained to the representatives of the Ministry of education that additional classes for Roma children in Roma language and culture, as well as text books published for them, were the results of the work of ADC “Memorial” and its volunteers as part of the charitable projects aimed at protection of the rights of Roma children, not an accomplishment of the state education system. On the contrary, in this particular case it was the school administration that had showed no interest in integration of Roma children. Deputy minister Vovchenko responded that meetings between the state officials and the representatives of NGOs were extremely important because they helped to get truthful information about what was going on.

However, the general treatment by state officials of alternative reports and other materials provided by NGOs could be summarized as follows: “these reports point out only some particular cases while there are no systematic problems”; “we didn’t know about this, you haven’t approached us, thus it is deficiency of your work, not ours, that you report directly to the UN without trying to solve the problem here in Russia”; “these are merely generalizations (i.e. “thousands of children will be out on the street as a result of implementation of the law on registration”), you cannot say anything concrete”. Here we see a contradictory approach to alternative materials as well as a contradictory understanding of the very procedure of the UN Committee on the rights of children and the UN Convention on the rights of the child, especially regarding the applicability of these to all children, regardless of their status. On the one hand, it was acknowledged that “particular cases” could be dealt with at the local level and thus they were supposedly not so important for the Russian report to the UN Committee on the rights of children. On the other hand, it was stated that in order to solve these problems in “particular cases” it was necessary to approach the highest hierarchical levels of administration (federal ministries, general procurator’s office, etc.) and this was a clear indication that in fact the problems could not be solved “locally”.

But the most obvious failure to understand problems of discriminated children was demonstrated in the course of discussions of the situation of children in same sex families. Deputy minister Vovchenko protested against the very term “vulnerable group”, as well as against considering LGBT children to be a vulnerable group (“there is no such point in the Convention”, she said). Many members of the official delegation referred to the absence of the term “same sex family” in the Russian Family code (in spite of the protests of representatives of LGBT NGOs, who stated that both the European Convention and the practice of the European Court for Human Rights consider same sex families to be families) and thus claimed that there was no special problem of children from such families. Representative of the Investigation Committee A.Tereschenko, who had repeatedly criticized representatives of NGOs for “speaking too generally without being concrete”, was very sharp in answering the questions of the latter, which indeed were very concrete (these dealt with lack of proper investigation of violent crimes against LGBT teenagers, etc.). He also referred to a practice, which supposedly exists in the USA, “within a certain milieu” (he referred to LGBT) “to adopt children instead of taking pets”. Representative of the staff of ombudsman for children’s rights in the Russian Federation called for making appeals against discrimination of LGBT children directly to ombudsman Pave Astakhov, notorious for his homophobic statements. 

However, in general, in spite of all the peculiarities of the discussions that took place, the very readiness of the Russian authorities to meet and discuss problems with human rights’ defenders should be welcomed. This will help to improve the situation, if only in “particular cases”.

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