Recently, some pro-family amendments were made to the Russian Constitution. But it’s not only family advocates who are trying to use them. On July 10, Russian legislators Pavel Krasheninnikov and Andrei Klishas introduced to the Parliament a bill that would change the procedure for taking a child from his or her parents in case of a direct threat to the child’s life.
The authors widely publicized their initiative, presenting it in the best possible light. Mr Krasheninnikov tried especially hard. Speaking to reporters, he stated that his bill “stems from the [updated] Constitution,” is “dedicated to traditional values,” and “protects the family.”
“It will be more difficult to remove children from parents without a trial,” claimed the official website of the State Duma of the Russian Federation (lower chamber of the Russian Parliament). And the official page of the Duma in the Russian social network VKontakte even called it “a bill against the abuses of CPS.”
It is fine language. But not all that glitters is gold. The thing is, all of these claims are false.
Of course, the problem of unlawful and unreasonable removal of children from their parents – like the problem of abuses by the CPS – is very real. This is well known to all organizations involved in protecting the family and the rights of parents that, with varying degrees of success, are helping parents recover children that were taken away from them illegally or without due grounds.
But the Krasheninnikov-Klishas bill will not solve this problem at all. In fact, if it is adopted, it will become even more difficult for families to protect themselves than it is today.
What does the situation look like today? Someone tips off the CPS (which in Russia is called ‘guardianship and custody bodies/authorities’) about a ‘problem’ in a family. The CPS carry out an inspection. If, based on its results, they consider that there is a ‘immediate threat to the life of the child or its health’, then, on the basis of Article 77 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation, they immediately remove the child from the parents (this is subject to later judicial review, if the parents complain). To do this, CPS needs a written approval of the relevant regional authority or the head of the municipality.
There are several problems with this algorithm. First of all, the concept of ‘immediate threat to life or health’ is, without exaggeration, an extremely elastic one. It can mean – and does so in various regional instructions and in the heads of CPS officers and judges – practically anything. Often the real reason for the removal of a child is the family’s financial circumstances.
As to the threat to health, the current Federal Law on the Fundamentals of Protection of the Public Health defines health (Article 2, paragraph 1) as ‘a state of physical, mental and social well-being of a person in which there are no diseases, as well as dysfunctions of organs and body systems.’ With such a wide definition of health, anything can be considered a threat to it – from a simple cold to any manifestation of ‘social ill-being’.
It will come as no surprise, then, that with norms like these, the only thing that has kept CPS from constant excesses is the vigilance of organizations protecting families, and the fear of public opinion (which, in recent years, has become less and less supportive of the violent destruction of families under dubious pretexts).
Now, what would the Krasheninnikov-Klishas bill change in this regard? What would it do to protect the family? The true answer to that is: nothing. It would only make things worse:
- The catch-all rationale for removing the child from the family in the form of an ‘immediate threat to the life and health of the child’ will remain in the law without any changes.
- The CPS will retain the right to remove a child without trial – ‘in exceptional cases’, ‘if there is reason to believe’ (that is, when officials decide so) that ‘the death of a child may occur within a few hours’. It is easy to see that this language is also extremely elastic. And an additional subtle aspect: to remove a child in such a situation the CPS will no longer need the permission of any higher authority or the municipality. In other words, the possibilities for ‘CPS abuses’ has not diminished at all.
- In other cases, decisions on the removal of children will be made by the courts on the applications of the same CPS – within 24 hours (!), behind closed doors. How many parents do you think will be able to find a qualified lawyer in such a time frame, even if they have enough money to pay for their services?
- As if this weren’t bad enough, the authors also inscribed in the text a universal duty to report to the CPS or the police about ‘threats to the life and health of the child’ in families.
Does this look like ‘protecting traditional values’ or ‘protecting families’?
It is much more similar to the introduction of the ‘juvenile express-courts for the removal of children’ – and this is exactly how pro-family NGOs and experts see this bill.
Family advocates recall that Mr Krasheninnikov, the most active of two co-authors of the bill, does not at all enjoy a reputation of a defender of the family and traditional values.
- Most recently, during a discussion about amendments to the Russian Constitution, he publicly opposed the inclusion in it of the norm that marriage is a union of a man and a woman.
- He is personally responsible for the fact that in the renewed Constitution children alone are declared ‘a priority of state policy’ – separately from their parents. The public and some politicians, such as the deputy chairman of the State Duma Pyotr Tolstoy, insisted that it was necessary to declare ‘family and children’ such a priority. It was Mr. Krasheninnikov, the chairman of the committee responsible for working on amendments in the Duma, who could help the pro-family wording get into the vote – and he didn’t do it.
- In 2019 Krasheninnikov personally introduced a scandalous amendment to the Criminal Code, popularly known as the ‘Smack Law’. As a result, any parent who gave a loving smack to the child could go to prison for two years. This absurd norm was soon abolished, after protests and petitions of hundreds of thousands of indignant citizens.
- According to MP Oksana Pushkina, he worked with her on the scandalous feminist bill on the prevention of domestic violence (popularly called the ‘Law on Violence against the Family’). The same bill which caused a wave of popular indignation at the end of last year. By the way, Mrs. Pushkina, who would habitually support anything that destroys families and advocates against any traditional value, has already managed to support this new bill.
Is it at all surprising that any initiatives to ‘protect the family’ by such an author should cause people to be cautious and distrustful?
And a couple more nuances. Firstly, bills on the family are usually considered in the State Duma by the relevant Committee on Family, Women and Children. The Krasheninnikov-Klishas bill is structured in a sly way – the bigger part of its text would amend the Code of Civil Procedure, not the Family Code. As a result, it will be worked on mainly by the State Duma Сommittee on State-Building, headed by (surprise!) Mr. Krasheninnikov himself! How critical do you think he will be of his own brainchild?
Secondly, Mr. Krasheninnikov advertises his bill to the public as ‘protecting the family’ and ‘traditional values’. But if you look at the official explanatory note to it, you will read quite a different thing there: it is ‘designed to implement the constitutional principle of the priority of the interests of the child in sectoral legislation’.
So, Krasheninnikov is relying on that very rule about children as a priority that he prevented from being corrected by including the word ‘family’. We all know very well that the ‘priority of the interests of the child’ language is often used by those who, on the pretext of talking about the special rights of children, seek to deprive them of protection by their family and parents.
By the way, the words about the ‘constitutional principle of the priority of the interests of the child’ are another false note. There is no such constitutional principle in Russia. Sorry, Mr. Krasheninnikov, but ‘children are the priority of state policy’ and ‘priority of the interests of the child’ are not the same thing.
One would admit that these manipulations could be unintentional. But the way the Krasheninnikov-Klishas bill is being promoted on the official page of the State Duma on VKontakte seems to leave no room for such doubts.
The purpose of those who lead the page is obvious – to provide this dubious bill with visibility of public support. To this end, an openly manipulative survey was organized. People were asked: ‘Do you support the bill against abuse of CPS?’ The plan was obvious – who in their right mind would have answered such a question with ‘No’?
But citizens weren’t fooled. As of this writing, almost 74% of the participants have courageously answered ‘No’, expressing their attitude to the Krasheninnikov-Klishas bill. Under the survey, people leave indignant comments: ‘The law is anti-family!’, ‘Why the manipulative question? It has nothing to do with the bill!’
And really! Manipulation and deception by official representatives of the Duma in VKontakte looks bad. If they were talking about a bill that really protects the family and solves its problems – would it be necessary to resort to such dirty tricks?
Of course, it is possible that the authors of the bill did not have a conscious intention to harm families, and their bill was simply not fully thought out.
But the fact is that the interim commission for improving family law in the Federation Council (upper chamber of the Russian Parliament) has been painstakingly preparing another bill for last three years. This bill is really aimed at protecting the family and limiting the possibility of taking children away from their parents. It was ready to be introduced to the Parliament. All these years this commission, led by Senator Elena Mizulina, has been working under the committee headed by the second co-author of the bill, Senator Andrei Klishas. Of course Krasheninnikov is aware of this work!
Given this background, what does the hasty introduction of the Krashennikov-Klishas bill look like? Judge for yourself.
Family advocates have every reason to be on their guard. Some of the wording of the updated Russian Constitution is threatening the anti-family lobby. Very soon enemies of the family will try to cover themselves with family rhetoric and introduce into the legislation norms that are dangerous for the family. Or at least ‘dummy’ norms – to ‘block’ our attempts to enact laws that truly protect the family and our values.
Of course, it is entirely possible that in this particular case we are not talking about maliciousness, but only about an attempt by a pair of lawmakers to gain cheap popularity by wrapping cosmetic changes to the law (that by no means save families from real problems) in beautiful words about protecting the family and the authority of the renewed Constitution. But this kind of dishonest trick, used by many politicians of past years, will no longer work. Our families have become cleverer and understand what is offered to them in a glittering wrapper.
This is also proved by the fact that in a space of few days a petition against the adoption of the Krasheninnikov-Klishas bill was signed by almost 50,000 people. The Russian people don’t want the false protection of families – they call for the real thing.