President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Kuznetsova, we are meeting on the eve of Children's Day. I know that you have some proposals directly related to child safety, and some other matters of a broader nature, which also concern this topic.
Let us discuss what you have. Go ahead, please.
Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights Anna Kuznetsova: Mr President,
Firstly, I am delighted to have this opportunity to discuss the main aspects of child protection, and the work of the Commissioner for Children’s Rights. This report on the past year’s performance includes specific children's stories, our struggles and proposals, as well as yet unresolved problems. I hope that the departments and agencies these proposals are addressed to will review them in due faith. We have put a lot of time and effort into working them out.
I would like to congratulate everyone on Children's Day, especially because this year we are celebrating it in special circumstances. The new amendments to the Constitution have been adopted, and the share of minors in the total population has reached a ten-year high. The number of large families has also grown, along with the total number of children they have, so now almost one-fifth of children in Russia are from large families.
The number of orphans has decreased by four percent in Russia, which is also a positive trend. And for the first time in many years, the number of crimes against minors has gone down by 9.1 percent.
I must say that last year was difficult indeed. It was not easy for us either. We had to navigate the new circumstances while building up the resources we had. The number of complaints to the ombudsman's office increased again, by 7.3 percent.
The number of complaints from minors increased by 36 percent. In some cases, since children's complaints require a special approach, we took off immediately to look into them directly on the spot.
And, of course, we worked in various other directions too, we organised events and monitoring surveys on various matters obtained from people’s appeals and complaints, including bullying or conflicts at school. We inspected the performance of the mediation service, as well as how effective or formal the attitude of educational organisations towards it is.
We assessed the enforcement of the law on public catering services that you initiated. Apart from other violations, we found out the following interesting fact: some schools with two shifts substituted lunch menus with breakfast menus. The cost is different, but the children seem to be well-fed. However, this substitution does not have a very positive influence on the children’s health, all the more so as it violates the law. We teamed up with the Prosecutor-General’s Office to hold large-scale inspections of educational organisations, and the violations we exposed are now being gradually eliminated.
Vladimir Putin: I have already mentioned this. It goes without saying that sanitary physicians should always pay attention to this subtle issue. Nevertheless, parent associations have every right to monitor the organisation of public catering and its quality. And we have to carry this through.
Anna Kuznetsova: Yes, parent feedback is a very good, real and efficient mechanism.
They are operating in different ways, but work is mostly being streamlined, we have the required methodological recommendations, the Council of Fathers, affiliated with the Children’s Rights Commissioner, other parent organisations in the regions and children's rights commissioners have established such commissions that work and provide feedback. There are more or less effective tools, but this mechanism is working today, and this is, indeed, the most efficient mechanism.
We have organised various events. For example, we searched for the relatives of orphans, namely, their great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers, killed during the Great Patriotic War. Orphans find it highly important to have people, whom they can feel proud of.
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Anna Kuznetsova: We also held other events, and provided tailored assistance together with the Council of Fathers I have already mentioned and the Association of Family Protection Organisations; we simply tried to help families in need of specific, tailored aid. By the way, the Council of Fathers is already operating in 79 Russian regions. They have shown very good results, with large sporting events and mentorship. Now the regions are introducing Father’s Day one after another. I think it is a good practice and it is important to spread it.
Vladimir Putin: When were these councils first established?
Anna Kuznetsova: The Council of Fathers was established about three years ago. To be honest, we did not expect such a scale as we have today: thousands of fathers across the country. They have various spheres of activity now. For example, they help fathers who have lost their wives and now have to bring up on their own one, two, or even as many as four children. When a mother dies giving birth for the fourth time, the father, in fact, is left with four children.
There is a nuance in this sphere: fathers seldom ask for help. This is a masculine trait.
Vladimir Putin: Yes. Men try to cope with difficulties all by themselves.
Anna Kuznetsova: Yes, this is true. Once they helped to build a fence, and finished with a complete renovation of the house: fathers united and helped together. Children’s ombudsmen help to find information about those who are in need of support.
We have also worked in other areas, too. In fact, we have improved the effectiveness of our administration. We had to re-direct it under the new conditions. We have developed criteria of childhood quality; this is a special approach that would make it possible to collect data from various agencies to create a picture of what is happening to children in a separate Russian region. Now this work is still in the overview stage, but some useful criteria have already been developed, and we can say that this works.
The most interesting fact: thanks to this work we have found out that various statistical data from different agencies requires serious revision. It cannot be used together because it is collected in a different way.
We turned to the Government and found support. Several agencies have backed us so far, and I hope that this will result in the improvement of statistical accounting. It is important for us to have feedback about what is happening.
We have also been working in other areas. We have flown to Syria six times and brought back 144 children. Despite the pandemic, together with the Government we have managed to find an algorithm to address this issue in such conditions. We have made 158 DNA tests.
We are in the process of intense preparations at the moment. These are the last days before the Vector of Childhood Forum, a potential landmark event for us. We have been waiting for two years; it was canceled because of the pandemic, and now we are going to hold it in Kuzbass, thanks to support of the regional government and the Ministry of Industry and Trade. We will bring together all the best achievements for children including services and initiatives provided by public organisations and government agencies.
For the first time, we will be inviting parents and children, not just experts, to this platform, where these initiatives will be showcased. Because parents and children are the ones who should see what has been done for them.
Together with our colleagues, we have prepared several proposals on child safety, on supporting families with disabled children and on the development of children's content. We have had requests from parents who would like to see a lot of creative things around their children, and…
Vladimir Putin: …and kindness.
Anna Kuznetsova: Yes. I will talk about this separately.
Now I would like to say, Mr President, that the new amendments to the Constitution have paved the way for a whole range of measures to support families with children. New benefits have been introduced, new payments for schoolchildren, the law on school meals, which has already been mentioned, and the law on tutorial work. Family Studies has been introduced in schools as a subject, something we have been insisting on for so long.
I would like to note one very important decision of yours. Not so long ago now, you instructed us to consider which department should be responsible for family and children's issues.
In my opinion, this is a key decision, a very important one, and I really would like the authorised agencies to carry this through as accurately as possible. The problem is the number of complaints concerning child protection authorities and services has increased by 40 percent again.
You might recall a recent story from Moscow Region, where a policeman just decided to follow a little girl, watched a suspicious man, and found a six-year-old child, literally among cats and waste in the rubbish in one of the houses. When I visited her in hospital, she could not even walk, let alone talk. Now she can even run, and there is every reason to believe she will soon find a very good family. This would not have happened if the responsible authorities had not worked proactively and properly.
Orphans become victims of criminal attacks three times more often. This is also unacceptable, especially since there are amendments to the Constitution that impose additional responsibility for orphans on the state. By the way, we have discussed this with the Minister of Science, and special methods have already been developed to proactively detect violence in orphanages. Nevertheless, these amendments are the groundwork for reforming this system, and we really do hope they will be implemented properly.
And I would like to discuss the topics we have been working on, and the proposals we have, Mr President.