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Committee on the Rights of the Child examines Russia's report under Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child

GENEVA (22 May 2018) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the initial report of the Russian Federation under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Presenting the report, Igor Zubov, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, said that Russia’s normative and legal framework for combatting the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography was in line with standards and provisions of international law, adding that Russia was a country in which the protection of the family and the care for children enjoyed priority.  All the work done in that field was built on long-term planning affirmed by the President’s decrees and instructions of the Government, which included the national strategy to deal with violence against children and protection of child victims, the concept of family and youth policy, the concept on the development of education for children, the concept of long-term social and economic development measures, and the demographic policy of the Russian Federation.  To shape a single State policy for enhancing the status of children, the President had confirmed that 2018-2027 would be the Decade of Childhood in which the key role would be played by the Children’s Ombudsman.  A priority for the authorities was to protect children from online exploitation, Mr. Zubov explained.  

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts expressed concern about the lack of disaggregated data on child victims of offences.  Experts further expressed doubt that national legislation was fully in line with the Optional Protocol, noting that it did not cover all aspects of the sale of children, such as forced labour, for example.  Experts also inquired about outreach and dissemination of the Optional Protocol, relevant training for State officials, the scope of the National Strategy on Action for Children 2012-2017, the coordination of policies aimed at the implementation of the Optional Protocol, the statute of limitation on offences against children, extraterritorial authority and double incrimination, extradition under the Optional Protocol, sex tourism, online sexual exploitation of children, assistance to child victims, sale of children through adoption, child begging, surrogacy of children, measures to prevent child marriages in Northern Caucasus, the prevention of prostitution during the upcoming World Football Cup, birth registration, and the  protection of children in dormitories.  

In his concluding remarks, Hatem Kotrane, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, noted that the Russian Federation had taken many measures to protect children from violence, and expressed hope that the Russian Federation would use the Committee’s observations to overcome the remaining challenges.

On his part, Mr. Zubov thanked the Committee for a very robust and interesting dialogue, expressing hope that the Committee would be objective in its assessment of Russia’s efforts.  

Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson, confirmed that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was a treaty body and not a court.  Its recommendations were meant to assist the State party, not to judge it.  

The delegation of the Russian Federation included representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, and the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office at Geneva.


The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m. to consider the second periodic report of Lesotho under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/LSO/2).

Report

The Committee is considering the initial report of the Russian Federation under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/RUS/1).

Presentation of the Report

IGOR ZUBOV, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, noted that Russia’s normative and legal framework for combatting the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography was in line with standards and provisions of international law, adding that Russia was a country in which the protection of the family and the care for children enjoyed priority.  All the work done in that field was built on long-term planning affirmed by the President’s decrees and instructions of the Government, which included the national strategy to deal with violence against children and protection of child victims, the concept of family and youth policy, the concept on the development of education for children, the concept of long-term social and economic development measures, and the demographic policy of the Russian Federation.  To shape a single State policy for enhancing the status of children, the President had confirmed that 2018-2027 would be the Decade of Childhood in which the key role would be played by the Children’s Ombudsman.  The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography was also implemented through State programmes to prevent homelessness and crimes against minors.  In 2017 there was a 1.4 per cent increase in budget resources for such programmes, and a special fund for support of vulnerable children had been set up.  The Criminal Code definitions had been harmonized with the Convention provisions and the Criminal Code now properly protected minors from crimes with stringent fines.  A special working group worked to protect minors from lewd acts online, and a single register of Internet resources had been set up.  Thanks to cooperation with Internet providers, some 83 per cent of materials with child pornography had been removed, and 94 criminal cases had been brought between 2015 and 2017.  There had been an increase in the number of processed crimes with respect to child pornography, but no cases of labour exploitation of children had been recorded.  The authorities had not been able to fully remove from the Internet offers for child prostitution.  Clients were brought to criminal responsibility for seeking sexual services from minors between the age of 16 and 18.  

Mr. Zubov highlighted the effectiveness of the monitoring of the Internet and the positive results of the introduction of child psychologists in pre-school and school institutions.  More than 80 per cent of the sexual abuse of children remained unknown to the police due to the fact that children did not tell their parents about such acts.  Paedophilia was a latent problem.  The citizens of Russia positively assessed the work of law enforcement agencies.  At the same time, Russian civil society was concerned about the aggressive imposition of some mass media aimed at imposing foreign patterns of liberal sexual behaviour, and the glorification of the cult of money and consumption.  Prostitution and images of nude bodies had become something desired.  Such lifestyle was condemned by most of the citizens.  The public called for the protection of minors against such trends, and the authorities worked to that end with mass media and public organizations actively involved in the area.  The Government had increased its efforts to improve international cooperation to fight human trafficking, namely with the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Interpol and other specialized international police organizations.  In 2017, the authorities had stopped seven groups of organized crime and had brought 143 individuals to justice.  The Russian Federation had signed bilateral cooperation agreements on human trafficking with Sri Lanka, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Panama and Abkhazia.

Questions by Committee Experts

HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, noted the number of steps taken by the State party, and the progress in the implementation of institutions to implement the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.  

Mr. Kotrane, nevertheless, expressed concern about the lack of disaggregated data and lack of data on child victims of offences, the number of sentences, reparation, and on migrant children.  What steps were intended to improve the data collection system?  

Turning to the National Strategy on Action for Children 2012-2017, Mr. Kotrane inquired whether it covered the spheres of the Optional Protocol.  Was there a central coordinating body for the implementation of the Optional Protocol and for setting up the national guidelines?  Mr. Kotrane noted that child commissioners should have sufficient independence from the Government.  

In terms of outreach and dissemination of the Optional Protocol, it seemed that it had not been included in school curricula.  What training had been conducted for judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and social and migration officials?  What was the allocation of resources specifically allocated for the implementation of the Optional Protocol?  

Mr. Kotrane expressed doubt that national legislation was fully in line with the Optional Protocol, noting that it did not cover all aspects of the sale of children, such as forced labour, for example.  There was no definition of child prostitution as such.  Mr. Kotrane further inquired about the application of the statute of limitation.  

Finally, Mr. Kotrane asked about the application of extraterritorial authority and double incrimination.  Could the Optional Protocol alone serve as the basis for extradition?

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, asked about prevention measures, namely about prosecution and enforcement of legislation.  What was the number of prosecutions and their outcomes?  

Turning to sex tourism, Mr. Nelson reminded that Russia was still a destination for sex tourism of children, and noted the increase of domestic offenders.  What measures would the State party introduce to address that problem?  Did tourism workers receive training on the relevant code of conduct?  

As for online sexual exploitation of children, there had been a 12-fold increase in the number of pornographic websites involving children in the previous four years, Mr. Nelson reminded.  Was there a national policy targeting that problem?  Were there any public education programmes about online safety?

On child victims, Mr. Nelson inquired about the provisions that determined the legal representation of a minor victim, procedural safeguards, and treatment of victims as offenders.  Were there programmes in place that ensured that child victims received the necessary support and assistance?  What was the availability of specialized counselling in shelters?  

What were the legislative provisions on the sale of children through adoption?  Were there extensive background checks of individuals who applied to adopt children?  

Mr. Nelson inquired about measures to tackle the problem of child begging, especially by children with disabilities.  

Were there any regulations on the surrogacy of children and what measures had been taken to prevent child marriages in Northern Caucasus, especially in Chechnya, asked RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson.

An Expert inquired about the measures adopted to ensure that there would be no child prostitution during the upcoming World Football Cup.

What was the difference between refuge centres for children and dormitories?  How were they managed?  Children accommodated there were easy prey for sexual predators, an Expert observed.

Was there a mechanism for birth registration in the most remote areas of the country to prevent early marriage?

How did the State party protect migrant children from sale and prostitution if it did not identify them?  What kind of access to education did migrant children have?  

An Expert invited the delegation to fill in and submit the questionnaire for the ongoing Global Study on children deprived of liberty.

Replies by the Delegation

IGOR ZUBOV, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, clarified that there was a specific body for the final collection of data on the prosecution of criminal cases, namely the General Procurator of the Russian Federation.  At the same time, the authorities sought to optimize administrative resources.  Public statistics should not contain information that could lead to any kind of racial and social hatred, as per request of the international community.  

The General Procurator of the Russian Federation carried out oversight of compliance with laws, as well as monitoring and compliance of the rights of minors, the delegation explained.  The number of individuals who had committed sexual violence against children in 2017 stood at 1.3 per cent of all convicted individuals.  The Ministry of Internal Affairs ran its own internal department statistics on offences against minors in more detail.

The authorities had not recorded a systematic problem of sexual crimes against migrant children, Mr. Zubov explained.  Russia was not a country for sex tourism, even though there were individual cases recorded.  Migratory processes in the Russian Federation and Europe were fundamentally different.  Most migrants in the Russian Federation were from the post-Soviet space.  Those who came with their children, including those from Ukraine, did not face many problems in receiving healthcare and education for their children, Mr. Zubov stressed.  Ten or 15 years ago, child prostitution in the Russian Federation was very common, but it was no longer a systemic phenomenon.  

As for the coordination of activities to counter sexual crimes on the Internet, a special department within the Ministry of Internal Affairs had been created.  The Commission on Minors, headed by the Vice Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, with 85 regional commissions and more than 3,000 municipal commissions, coordinated the implementation of the rights of minors, and identified and tried to resolve any violation of the law, the delegation explained.  

Mr. Zubov said that there were no special training sessions on the Optional Protocol, but relevant themes were taught to State officials.  Every public official had to sit an exam related to any changes in national legislation and international law.  

Mr. Zubov noted that the Russian Federation had made significant progress in providing shelters and expert support for child victims.  The State was constantly earmarking funds to increase the number of shelters, which at the moment amounted to 184.  The authorities also allocated special grants to civil society organizations that ran shelters and provided support to child victims.

The provisions on withdrawing the legal representation of minors from guardians if they contradicted the best interest of the child would not change, Mr. Zubov said.  Dropping the charges against the perpetrator of a sexual crime against a minor was not possible under the law, but could happen if the parties agreed so.  Any possession of pornographic material led to criminal responsibility.  The Criminal Code was fully in line with the Optional Protocol, and some differences resulted in the use of different terminology in Russian law.  Punishments were more severe than in many other countries.  The sale of children was a separate crime under Russian law.  As for illegal exploitation, there was an offence of slave labour, which led to a more severe punishment if children were used for slave labour.

There were background checks of individuals who applied to adopt children, the delegation explained.  For the past four years, Russian legislation on adoption had changed significantly.  The Law on Guardianship and the Family Law clearly spelled out conditions for adoption.  Only a court could decide on a question of adoption.  The existing legislation made it possible for the Russian Federation to be involved in international adoptions.  However, priority was given to national adoptions.  The Russian Federation had international agreements on adoption with many countries, such as with Italy, Spain and France.  It was also preparing agreements with Israel, Malta and New Zealand.

The Ombudsman’s Office had sufficient resources and full freedom of action.  It received some 18,000 complaints from children, but very few were related to sexual crimes against children, Mr. Zubov said.  

The delegation explained that many legal acts regulated surrogacy.  Surrogate mothers could not be stem cell donors.  Cases of child trafficking through surrogacy were very few.  There was no criminal liability for surrogacy if it was carried out legally.  Otherwise, provisions of the Criminal Code would apply.  The genetic parents could cover the costs of the surrogate mother’s carrying of the term.  

Turning to the question of child marriage in Northern Caucasus, Mr. Zubov explained that exceptions to the legal age of marriage of 18 were made in certain regions of the country due to local traditions.  If the practice of the so-called “bride price” (dowry) in Chechnya was a concealed form of sale of children and against the will of parents, then it became another matter.  

Mr. Zubov expressed hope that those coming to Russia to follow World Cup games would come there for football and not for prostitution.  He noted that the Russian Federation had a longstanding experience in organizing big sports events.  The authorities were preparing a plan to ensure public order and safety during the World Football Cup, which included a ban on prostitution.

There was no problem with birth registration in remote provinces in the Russian Federation, Mr. Zubov stressed.  Child begging was very rare in Russia, except among the Roma population.  Involving minors in anti-social activities was punishable under law.

The delegation clarified that centres for social rehabilitation for children operated under the supervision of the Social Protection System.  Most of the staff working there were psychologists.  Children stayed there up to six months, but only for the purpose of studies; they did not live there.

Concluding Remarks

HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, thanked the delegation for their replies, reminding that States were reviewed on the basis of measures they were taking to prevent violence against children.  The Russian Federation had taken many measures to that end, and Mr. Kortane expressed hope that the Russian Federation would use the Committee’s observations to overcome remaining challenges.

IGOR ZUBOV, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, thanked the Committee for a very robust and interesting dialogue, expressing hope that the Committee would be objective in its assessment of Russia’s efforts.  New technologies multiplied the number of risks for children, but they had also offered law enforcement forces new ways to counter those risks.  The Government would use the constructive comments made by Committee Experts to improve its work.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, confirmed that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was a treaty body and not a court.  Its recommendations were meant to assist the State party, not to judge it.

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