Valantsin Stefanovic: Decree #18 Allows for Serious Violations of Human Rights
On November 24 Alexander Lukashenka signed Decree about Extra Measures for Protecting Children in Difficult Families. The Decree provides for 2 key issues: taking away children from parents who neglect them, and compulsory employment of people who avoid their parental responsibilities. Children will be taken away from parents if “parents have an amoral life style”, “are alcohol or drug addicts”, or neglect their children in other way, and their behavior put children in a socially dangerous situation.
Lawyer Valiantsin Stefanovic comments the Decree:
-- According to the Decree, children can be taken away not under the court decision, but under the decision of the juvenile commission. The document provides for extrajudicial procedure of taking children away. Meanwhile, the UN Convention for Children’s Rights says that children can be taken from parents only on the ground of court decision. Extrajudicial procedure of taking children away from parents does not correspond to the international legislation and the Constitution of the
Certainly, there are dangerous situations when the decision is to be taken promptly. For such cases the law should provide for some fast procedure in courts. For example, a commission files an appeal to court, and the court is to consider the appeal during 3 or 10 days.
The wording of grounds for taking children away is also quite indistinct: “parents, who have an amoral life style”, “who are alcohol or drug addicts”, or “neglect their children in other way, which makes children socially unprotected”.
There are cases when teenagers got on a police list for participation in opposition actions. Parents of such kids get fines for “child neglect”. Thus, the situation can be interpreted the following way: the parents of active teenagers were fined for child neglect, they influence them in a bad way, etc.
-- According to Decree # 18 parents will be obliged to work at a job which they will be given. How can you comment on that? Does the forced employment provided by the Decree correspond to the Belarusian legislation?
-- It turns out, that the authorities will have to find a job for a very big number of people in a very short time period. And the jobs are to be well-paid. Keeping a child in an orphanage costs 100-200 USD a month. Meanwhile, the Decree says, 30% of salary should stay in the hands of the person obliged to work. That means, he is to receive a 250-300 dollar salary. This is a well-paid job, for high-qualified people.
Usually parents from problem families have bad education or have already lost their professional skills. What kind of qualified job can they do? Secondly, the Decree says they are to be employed at companies with different patterns of ownership. It might be a private company. So, a private employer might be obliged to employ such people, because the court decision is compulsory for all.
The wording “compulsory employment” is legally incorrect as well – an individual is forced to work. International legislation, including the Pact of Civic and Political Rights, provides only for certain situations in which forced labor can be used. For example, a court verdict of imprisonment for a committed crime, or a court verdict of public work. If an individual is found guilty of a crime, and the court sentences him to a certain penalty, then forced labor is possible as part of the penalty. In other cases forced labor is prohibited by the Constitution and a number of international conventions. In my opinion, the Decree allows for serious violations of human rights, provided by the Constitution of the
-- Why do you think the issue has been raised now?
-- I see certain populism in that. Lukashenka continues to demonstrate how he “cares about children”. Really, we have many children who live in orphanages. I think there should be other solutions to the problem than just forcing parents to work and employ them in an odd way. This is a social problem and needs appropriate measures to solve it. This is all is happening on the background of a problem with foreigners adopting Belarusian children which became political.
The state behaves as an owner of the children and has a monopoly in deciding who should be given for adoption, and who – should not.