Golovan shares his vision of establishing a centre for missing children
According to official statistics 12-15,000 children go missing in Russia every year. Representatives of civil society see things differently, suggesting that this figure is very much understated. According to the civil rights movement ‘Soprotivlenie’, the victims in almost half the cases involving violence of a sexual nature are minors.
This problem was the subject of a round table held in the public chamber at which the creation of a centre for missing children was discussed. The leading figure in Soprotivlenie, Olga Kostina, said that the initiative had the support of the president of the Russian Federation and the heads of the law enforcement bodies. She said that it was predominantly people with previous convictions who carried out attacks on children. The law enforcement agencies had not developed a way of controlling their behaviour. This meant that people had to find their own ways of protecting their young. At present residents in one of the central Moscow districts put around photographs of those whom they consider constitute a threat to their children.
Russia and the USA occupy first and second place in regard to the distribution of child pornography and crimes relating to children. However, as Alina Radchenko, chief executive of the secretariat of the public chamber, said, quite a few NGOs are engaged in resolving this problem. In Russia these issues are being dealt with by a working group of the public chamber dealing with young people’s problems and policies relating to them, on which a number of the chamber’s committees are represented. A representative of the public prosecutor’s office said that unless the public and the government worked together there was no way in which the country would succeed in dealing successfully with those who tortured and murdered children. Thanks to inter-agency collaboration in the USA, adults and children know where they can turn to in the event of their rights being violated, whilst in Russia a number of ‘hotlines’ are used by about ten people a year. The International Missing Children Centre in the USA engages in searches for minors and also the development of methods of ensuring their safety and the co-ordination of international search programmes.
Mr Golovan, who is the first presidential commissioner for the rights of the child, considered that ideally a missing children’s centre should be a government and public joint partnership. The American centre had assumed a social and co-ordinating role and acted as a guarantor of children’s legal rights. The former ombudsman outlined a number of issues which were as yet unresolved: what the legal character of the centre would be; who would found it; whether state funding would be available; and, the fundamental question of joint working between the centre and the government agencies within whose remit the search for missing children and the prevention of crimes against them falls. He thought that the centre should not be a sub-department of some government agency but a non-commercial organisation in its own right, financed out of the federal budget by analogy with the Fund for the Support of Children in Difficulties. He also pointed to the non-commercial partnership ‘The Russian Council for International Affairs’, founded by government ministries together with communal and academic bodies. He warned against the centre becoming the creation of a ministry and thus being constrained by the latter’s policies. Inter-agency agreements would be needed to facilitate joint working with various departments of state. Federal legislation would also be needed to cover this and to ensure the involvement of civil society.
Some discussion followed on the vagueness of the term ‘cruelty’ and on the need to consult the public on what they consider ‘violence’ to mean. One of the important elements in the prevention of child abuse was thought to be public access to criminal statistics on a regional basis and the creation of a database carrying information on all young Russians, following the example of Finland.