Proposed amendments to the Russian Family Code
Federation Council prepares package of amendments to the Family Code
24 September 2021
The amendments will regulate family law, putting forward provisions to protect children whose life or wellbeing is at risk, as well as to protect children who have been left parentless.
The proposals were presented by senator Elena Mizulina. Among them is a proposal to take away the power of custody services to remove a child from their family and transfer this authority to the police. Under the new proposals there will be a division between children without any parental guardianship and those who require only temporary protection.
In addition, the amendments will introduce the principle of ‘the presumption of parental integrity’ and encompass three levels of child protection, with the removal of a child from its parents considered an “extreme measure”.
Managing Chairman of the Foundation for the Prevention of Child Cruelty Aleksandr Spivak welcomed the amendments’ efforts to differentiate between temporary measures and the permanent removal of a child from their family. Alongside this, however, the expert emphasised that the amendments also contain some risky measures.
‘The new proposals envision temporary child protection only if the parents, in the words of Mizulina, “cannot express their will”. In other words, if a parent is unconscious or intoxicated and so on. Meanwhile, there are many instances where a parent is conscious but their behaviour is still very threatening. So how a child will be protected under such conditions is not resolved by these amendments’, Spivak told a correspondent from the Agency for Social Information (ASI).
The second point which worries the expert is the ‘presumption of parental integrity’ wherein two different issues are mixed up; child protection and the question of a person’s guilt.
According to Spivak, there are many instances when a child finds him or herself in a dangerous situation where there is no guilty parent as such, but rather a coming together of circumstances.
“We must separate child protection measures, which have nothing to do with a court ruling on the parents’ guilt, from the work of law enforcement in establishing whether a crime has been committed,” declares the expert.
Programme director of the charitable foundation Our Children Aleksandra Goriacheva states that, in her opinion, the new system of three levels of child protection is the right one. She likewise agrees that the removal of parental rights is an extreme measure which should be enacted only by a court order and in extreme cases.
On the other hand, the expert believes that the main problems, both with the current laws and the proposed amendments, are unclear formulations and, by extension, mechanisms.
“With the current model two completely opposite scenarios are taking place: when a child is taken away and an application is made to remove parental rights under circumstances where effective action could have been taken to avoid having to remove the child. While at the same time, we’ve heard of cases where a child’s life or welfare has been endangered but a decision was taken to leave them with their family,” Goriacheva told the ASI correspondent.
Club Director of the Arifmetika dobra (Good Maths) foundation for adoptive families Svetlana Stroganova agrees that serious concern is caused by this understanding of “temporary measures” which hasn’t been thought through properly: how long will they last, what do they entail, what exactly will happen to the child and parents while the measures are being taken, and who is responsible for the implementation and outcome of such measures.
Moreover, the transfer of powers to the police also raises questions.
“Police officers haven’t taken specialist courses and aren’t ready to work with such sensitive matters. I imagine we could see many unjustified confiscations if, for example, instances where a child is not wrapped up warm or is hungry becomes the threshold at which they are taken away and put in a shelter,” warns Stroganova.
In any case, according to many experts, the importance of changes to the system of child and family protection cannot be overstated — they have been a long time coming, and everyone is aware that the current system of care and guardianship, and social support for families, is flawed and in need of amending.