Practical Recommendations and Suggestions on Legislative Changes regarding the Rights of the Child in the Republic of Belarus
Eliminate the practice of administrative separation of children from their parents as it violates the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.
- Clearly define what is meant by ‘all the other cases’ of ‘not properly fulfilling parental responsibilities’.[i]
- Envision penalties for state officials for unjustified separation of the child from the family (biological or adoptive).
- Stop harassment of socially and politically active women and their children as a way to punish them for political descend.
- Ensure the parental rights of people with disabilities and introduce relevant changes preventing separation of children from parents having certain conditions into the article 116 of the Code of the Republic of Belarus, the law “On social protection of young orphans, children deprived of parental care and persons from those groups” and relevant by laws.[ii]
Introduce a legal norm that obliges the state bodies to provide the parents with copies of all the documents related to decision to separate the child form the family on their request with a goal of securing parents’ rights to justice.[iii]
Children of unknown parents must have an opportunity to enjoy rights to survivor’s benefits. Relevant modification should be introduced into the Pension Law of the Republic of Belarus, namely into the article 35.[iv]
Recognize that every child is able to learn and has a right to attend local school (introduce relevant changes into the law and by laws).
Mandate all the educational establishments to take relevant steps in order to ensure accessibility of education to children with disabilities/ children with special developmental needs. Remove restrictions on acquiring professions (established by the Ministry of Health) and provide labor conditions responding to individual needs.
Introduce probation as a punishment for underage perpetrators of crime into the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.
Introduce voluntary and confidential reconciliation of a perpetrator and a victim (mediation) into the criminal legislation with the goal of improving the mechanism of exemption of underage perpetrators from criminal liability.
Ban child slave labor, in other words eliminate the practice of involving minors into any kind of agricultural or other works especially during an academic year.
All types of child labor, including non-penitentiary community works should be regulated by the Labor Code of the Republic of Belarus.
[i] In Belarus children can be separated from their parents by state officials in cases envisioned by the paragraph 1 of the Presidential Decree no 18 from November 24, 2006, modified version from February 23, 2012 (On Additional Measures of State Protection of Children in socially disadvantaged families). Such cases mainly cover the families where parents (or a single parent) lead an “immoral life” with adverse impact on the child; families where parents are substance abusers, or all the other cases where the parents are not properly fulfilling their parental responsibilities and this endangers the children. The law however does not provide any definition of “all the other cases of not properly fulfilling parental responsibilities”. This leads to abuse and violation of the child’s right of not to be separated from the parents. One of the many reasons given to justify a child’s removal from the family is “frequent requests for social assistance” (that is a situation when a parent is addressing the local council with complaints and requests way too often). This reason is openly stated in paragraph 6 of the Program for Educating Children and Protecting their Rights and Legal Interests … approved by the Ministry of Education on May 5, 2011.
As a result any request for state assistance can be perceived as a justification for the administrative removal of a child from the family. Some other reasons for the removal of the child listed in the Program are “being out of employment or frequent change of workplace” for one of the parents; “unpaid utilities bills”. The enforcement of these legal norms substantially increases the risk that we are going to have many more children deprived of parental care.
The vagueness and broadness of the definition also creates space for power abuse and harassment of politically active mothers for their social, political or journalistic work with the goal of silencing them or preventing them from seeking justice.
[ii] The Republic of Belarus discriminates and denies parental rights to people whose condition is included into the list of diseases disqualifying a person from fulfilling parental rights (approved by the Ruling no 36 of the Ministry of Health, March 30, 2010), as well as persons with disabilities whose rehabilitation plan has an open prohibition on being employed. The aforementioned list of disease includes diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure among others.
The state does not provide proper assistance to persons with disabilities in raising children. One’s illness or disability becomes an obstacle for enjoying parental rights and is a justification for considering a child “deprived of parental care”.
In such cases the public guardianship services remove the child automatically without considering whether the persons with disabilities or certain illnesses are able to raise their children.
[iii] The public guardianship services do not provide the mothers (the parents) with any copies of the documents (even during a court process and for the court inquiry) that served as a basis of a decision to remove the child from the family. This impedes access to justice and the appealing processes. Apart from that, a number of instances were observed when the public guardianship services would fabricate the results of the inspection of child’s housing facilities and use these falsified evidence as a justification for removal of the child. Even though the forgery was later discovered in court, none of the employees of the public guardianship service was held accountable.
[iv] Article 47 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus safeguards the right of all citizens to survivor’s pension. The Pension Law, however, does not envision a mechanism for securing survivor’s pension to children of unknown parents (i.e. to “door-bell babies”). In other words, if a child’s mother has abandoned the child and left him/her in a trash can, and the state failed to identify the parents, the child is not entitled to any welfare benefits apart from a place in an orphanage until the age of 18.