Children’s Ombudsman on the practice of removing children from their family
According to first presidential children’s rights ombudsman, Aleksei Golovan, removal of children from their family is not a ‘novel legal practice’
Parents who claim that they face losing their parental rights for one reason or another and their attorneys took part in a press conference devoted to this issue. One father said that the militia (police) had taken his three children to a refuge without any order from the head of the municipality and without representatives of the guardianship agency being present. The ground was that their living conditions were inappropriate. In January, because of the dangerous state in which they were housed, the family moved to a room provided in a hostel, which was in a ‘horrific’ condition. However, according to the head of the family, public pressure led to the children being returned to their parents. Since 2006 he had been organising sports camps in the summer for left wing activists. He went on to state that since January 2008 the militia had been calling him in for regular ‘chats’.
A mother said that representatives of the guardianship agency had proposed placing her children in a refuge for six months until she had completed some necessary documentation (she had not been able to obtain a grant of citizenship for fifteen years, which is the reason her children were living without papers). However, the children were not returned after the six months had expired and court proceedings were taken to deprive her of her parental rights.
Also at the press conference was another mother who had several children and had been accused of cruelty to her daughter. Criminal proceedings were instituted under Article 116 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which deals with assault. An expert from the Committee for Citizens’ Rights considered that less affluent families often cannot hire an attorney in order to defend accusations of cruelty or allegations that the children’s living conditions are inappropriate made by the militia or the guardianship agency.
Aleksei Golovan told an ASI correspondent that it cannot be said that removal of children from their family is a ‘novel legal practice’. It is even more incorrect to claim that poverty constitutes a ground for removal. ‘Such a ground does not and may not exist in the code of the Russian Federation dealing with family law. I consider that each family must be considered individually. When all the cases are lumped together, one gets the impression that there is in fact such a policy and there is a campaign afoot…But when you begin to go into the details it becomes clear that cases are not comparable’, he said.
In his opinion, parents whose children are removed do not tell the public all the circumstances leading up to this. If the guardianship agency takes such a decision, then as a rule they have grounds for doing so. At the same time he emphasised that the agency did not always undertake preventive work with the family. But there were cases where their efforts had produced no results and they adopted the extreme measure. The ombudsman also observed that ‘the agency often finds itself between a rock and a hard place’. It was important to remove children from a family in timely fashion to avert a tragedy, and at the same time to give the parents a chance to mend their ways. ‘I understand parents when they mount a campaign in the media after their children have been removed. Attack is the best means of defence. However, the public should be able to find out what the agency’s grounds were and whether it was open to them to act otherwise. I would not want to lump all these cases together’, emphasised the ombudsman.