The following article has been translated and slightly adapted from the original Russian, as published on the website of the Institute for Collective Action. For information about how to help Sergei Pchelintsev and his family, see the end of the article. We have added details provided on the blog of the international solidarity campaign that has been mounted in their defense.
Politically Motivated Child Custody? Leftist Activist Sergei Pchelintsev Has Been Deprived of His Three Children Because of Poverty
We have already written about the political motives behind attempts by the child welfare authorities in Balashikh to remove Vladilena Lapina from the custody of her adoptive parents, leftist activists Alexander Lapin and Zinaida Smirnova. A similar story has unfolded in Nizhny Novgorod Region. Even if the persecution to which local activist Sergei Pchelintsev has been subjected has nothing to do with his political position and is merely the consequence of the heartlessness and unprofessionalism of local child welfare bureaucrats, the situation demands our focused attention insofar as reports of attempts to remove children from the custody of non-drinking albeit “poor” or “strange” parents have been coming from Russia’s regions more and more often.
On February 12, the room where Sergei Pchelintsev and his family live in the town of Dzerzhinsk was visited by a group of officials from several municipal executive authorities: the municipal child welfare department, the juvenile affairs commission of the local police, and the social welfare department. They even brought a crew from the local TV station with them.
The zealous juvenile defenders demonstratively took custody of three young children from Pchelintsev and his wife Lidiya Buzanova — Maxim (b. 2006), Anna (b. 2007), and tiny Dasha, who was born in the autumn of 2009. Despite the stipulations in Article 77 of the Russian Federation Family Code, these officials took custody of the children without presenting their parents with the proper documents from the municipal administration.
If you imagine that these bureaucrats merely followed the letter of family law as specified in Article 77 and saved the children from the extreme situation of having to live with parents who were alcoholics, drug addicts, mentally ill or merely indifferent to them, then you would be mistaken.
Sergei and Lidiya lead an absolutely normal (sober and healthy) lifestyle. They love their children and take care of them. The only crime they are guilty of is having a multi-child family in Russia. As they took custody of the children, the bureaucrats cynically told Sergei, “Your place is clean, but it’s too poor.”
In reality, Sergei does everything he can to feed his large family. Should we remind the reader that they live in one of Russia’s outlying areas, where the majority of population is poor even when they are employed? Pchelintsev’s average monthly wage is ten or eleven thousand rubles [approximately 245–270 euros], which is barely enough for the five of them. His wife is forced to stay home with the children: their oldest is only three years old, not to mention the necessity of taking care of a newborn baby. According to Sergei, his pensioner mother sometimes comes to help his wife. Sergei and Lidiya have no other close relatives.
In their hurry to defend the rights and interests of the children, the authorities did not even bother to find out the reasons for the poverty they blamed Pchelintsev and Buzanova for when they committed this act of lawlessness against them. If they had asked the tax inspectorate where Sergei diligently files his income declaration, they would have learned that the sum indicated above is exactly what he can earn with his honest labor. The bureaucrats did not offer Pchelintsev a high-paying job, and of course they will not offer him one. It would seem that this family should enjoy all the measures of state social support as outlined in the Russian Constitution. Article 19 established the principle that all citizens enjoy the same rights and freedoms no matter what their economic status. Article 39, Part 1 of the Constitution guarantees social assistance for everyone in the raising of their children and in other circumstances stipulated by law. The essence of this civil right is that the state guarantees that it will render assistance to those who give birth and raise children.
It is telling, however, that this multi-child, low-income family does not receive any of the assistance stipulated by the normative acts, including the federal benefits for multi-child families. According to Sergei, officials even refuse to grant them free baby food for their newborn child. The officials at the Dzerzhinsk municipal social welfare department give Pchelintsev various absurd arguments for this. It is possible that Sergei is insufficiently persistent in his demands that his family be allotted the benefits due to them. However, the prospect of begging from bureaucrats and court officials does not seem so brilliant when every day you have to earn enough to at least feed your family. On the other hand, during the demonstrative “defense” of the children that took place on February 12, the social worker was right on the spot.
The only assistance the state has rendered to this family is to give them a separate room — one room for all the members of the family and, as Sergei has put it, a “previously used” room. That is, a room that has not been renovated to European standards. This auspicious event took place literally a month ago. Today, when he visited the child welfare office, the prosecutor, and a number of other official agencies, Sergei heard lots of interesting things, including the explanation by officials that he should have carried out cosmetic repairs in the room that he was granted. Because young children should not live in a room like the one assigned to them by the state.
It is clear that during the course of the various initiatives announced by high state officials (whether the Year of the Family or the latest program in defense of mothers and children) bureaucrats have to report about the work they’ve carried out. We will leave “off screen” the question of how funds set aside for these programs are spent (apparently, this is where these government funds end up — “off screen”). It is much simpler to fill the orphanages with new wards, who are thus cut off from the love and tenderness of their parents. It should be clear that hired nannies are no substitutes for parents.
In any case, the bureaucrats would never think of trying out the fate that lies in store for three-year-old Maxim, two-year-old Anya, and newborn Dasha on their own children. Their mentality wouldn’t allow them to do this.
A question naturally arises: why was the Pchelintsev family chosen to pad the statistics of welfare bureaucrats?
This was no accident. Sergei Pchelintsev is a political activist of leftist convictions, although he is not a member of any political party. In November and December 2009, he spoke on several occasions at pickets that took place in Dzerzhinsk. He spoke about the things that he himself had to face every day: unemployment and poverty, as well as about the illegal layoffs of workers at the GAZ auto plant in Nizhny Novgorod and the rapacious reforms to the pension system. After these appearances, Pchelintsev was invited to the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) in December of last year. As Sergei tells it, during the course of the conversation Center “E” officials threatened him, offered him a “job” as an unofficial informant, and demanded that he stop taking part in civic actions. Among other threats, they promised to cause problems for his family.
After this conversation, Pchelintsev wrote out a complaint and delivered it to the regional police administration. As we can see, the reaction to his complaint was not long in coming.
At present, the Pchelintsev-Buzanova children are in the municipal children’s hospital. Although the law doesn’t forbid parents from meeting with children in welfare custody until such time as their parental rights are formally restricted or taken away, Sergei and Lidiya are not being admitted to see their children. [Because of the attention this case has generated in the local and national Russian media, Pchelintsev and his wife have apparently now been allowed to see their children — The Editors.] Within seven days of the removal of children from their families, child welfare officials are obliged to file a custody suit with the courts.
Pchelintsev has been told that he should be ready for just such a custody trial. Moreover, bureaucrats have given him to understand that the outcome of these legal proceedings is already known: Pchelintsev and Buzanov will have their custodial rights to all their children restricted. And then they will be deprived of custody altogether if they fail within a month to renovate their room, buy extra toys, books, a bed, and food. It is worth noting that family law establishes a period of half a year for such remedial actions.
In view of the “telephone justice” that law enforcement officials offended by Sergei’s complaint might resort to, it is also likely that Pchelintsev and Buzanova won’t be granted even this final chance to get their children back.
We should note that every child has the right to life and to be raised in a family, the right to know his parents, the right to their care, and the right to live with them. Every child has the right to be raised by his parents, the right to have his interests defended, the right to all-round development, and the right to have his human dignity respected (Article 54, Russian Federation Family Code).
According to Article 27, Part 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, “States Parties [including Russia], in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”
Unless civic activists, civil rights defenders, journalists, and just ordinary caring people intervene in this situation, yet another family will suffer from the legal nihilism that is rampant in Russia.
The Pchelintsev family urgently needs informational, legal, financial, and material support. They need society to protest against the illegal and inhuman actions of Dzerzhinsk’s so-called child protection services.
Packages with children’s toys, books, clothes, and non-perishable food items can be sent to the following address:
Sergei Alexandrovich Pchelintsev
ul. Revoliutsii, d. 15, kv. 24
Dzerzhinsk, Nizhny Novogorod Region
606024 Russian Federation
You can also send money via the following WebMoney accounts:
Protest letters can be sent to the following addresses:
Dzerzhinsk Municipal Administration: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vasily Vasilievich Olnev, Human Rights Ombudsman for Nizhny Novgorod Region: email@example.com
This article was prepared by L. Romanova, an expert at the Civic Stance Center of the Committee for Civil Rights.