Children’s Ombudsman on the priorities for his office, problems in the sector and future plans.
On 1 June, International Children’s Day, at a press conference held by Interfax, Pavel Astahov, Children’s Ombudsman, summed up the results of his five-month tenure in the position. The 43 year old lawyer replaced the former Ombudsman Aleksei Golovan, who retired in December 2009. According to Astahov, in 2010 there are five main priority areas: protecting the rights of orphans and those taken into care; defending the right of each child to grow up in a family; protecting children from violence; protecting the rights of children with disabilities; and developing international co-operation to protect children’s rights.
According to Astahov, the situation of children has worsened recently due to the global recession. There are a “large number of orphans….much neglect and homelessness”, notwithstanding the fact that for the last few years there has been continuous work on these issues. Special public commissions should be set up in Russia to monitor orphanages. The corresponding bill (developed by Boris Altshuler, head of Rights of the Child, Valentin Gefter, head of the Human Rights Institute, and others) is good; however, in order for it to be accepted it needs to be revised. The bill can tackle problems such as widespread violations of young peoples’ right to an education; social welfare, health care, holidays, employment, and social segregation of children and teenagers; and the high rate of juvenile crime.
In Astahov’s opinion, there is another problem, linked to Russian children being adopted by foreigners and taken abroad. He says “It would be desirable to see more foster families in Russia. We simply cannot afford to have 4,000 children adopted by foreign families and taken abroad every year.” According to Astahov, in the last year the authorities have taken 25,835 children from their families into custody without a court order. Another issue is mixed race marriages. The parents need to decide what country they will live in and they must abide by its laws, otherwise there will be a “catastrophe, first and foremost in the family” that the government will be unable to prevent.
Astahov has also highlighted the problems of children with disabilities and children with health problems. Out of more than 26 million children in Russia, there are about 545,000 children with disabilities. The Ombudsman has drawn attention to the fact that we do not see children with disabilities in public places. This shows how unpractical travel is in Russia, as the country is not adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. Astahov is currently working on making sure that vital medicines are made available to young Russians with disabilities. “Once again, regional civil servants and doctors working in state hospitals find that they have a shortage in supplies, however, they are reluctant to use charity funds, fearing that this will “ruin league tables” and the authorities will be displeased.” The Agency of Social Information (ASI) has a file of similar cases and has approached the Ombudsman asking “whether it is possible to influence the situation.” Astahov has said that he is aware of the problem and is willing to find a solution. He has asked for a list of those civil servants and doctors who are reluctant to work with charities.