According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia 2018, there were almost 6,500 underage children missing in 2018. This includes 2,300 young children under the age of 14. 4,000 of these children left home without permission and 2,100 children left child care. The Investigative Committee, however, reports a much higher figure – 13,600 children missing in 2018.
Why is there such a large difference? According to the Committee, it is because of how the number is calculated. Regardless, the real figure is likely to be higher because many missing cases may not be reported.
As of 2018-2019, more people are disappearing in big cities. The fastest-growing category is teenagers leaving their families or running away from school, as well as children under 11 who disappear in summer in nature.
According to the voluntary search organization Lisa Alert, around 80-90% of missing children are found. 80% are found alive. Approximately 10% of the total number of missing children is associated with crimes and violence against minors or accidents.
At the same time, the results of a study by Novaya Gazeta showed that 80% of crimes against children are committed by relatives or people close to the family. Quite often a child’s disappearance is linked to family kidnapping – when a child is deliberately abducted by one of the parents after the divorce or separation. According to the public movement STOP Kidnapping, in 2018 there were 500 registered complaints from parents suffering from family kidnapping. The figures listed above may not reflect the situation accurately enough due to the fact that abduction in intact families is not considered a crime, and many cases remain underreported.
The Russian government must introduce a legal mechanism for reducing parental abduction. It should also develop effective measures for withdrawing the child in the case of the abduction within a reasonable timeline after the court has announced a ruling.
Parental alienation should be criminalized as a form of child abuse. Parents should have a right to request access to their children regardless of their legal relationship with their ex-partner – whether they are divorced or not.
The government has to fight corruption in the courts, as in many cases it becomes the main weapon of the abducting parent.
Parents who fail to pay child support or use illegal schemes to reduce their amount should be punished. The payments should be collected forcibly, and debtors should be restricted from traveling abroad.
Under Russian law, both parents have joint custody, unless a domestic court decides otherwise. If parents cannot agree on custody, a court will intervene and decide based on who is best able to raise, protect and guard the child’s welfare. A mother is often seen as better placed to care for a child in Russian culture. This may affect the court’s decision in favor of a mother and children growing up without their fathers. With more than 60% of marriages in Russia ending in divorce, that means a large number of children who may not have access to both parents.
It is worth noting that in the Muslim majority regions of the North Caucasus, it is quite different. Under local laws, the father or his family are often granted custody of the child.
When a child is born out of wedlock, the mother is automatically granted full custody. More than 21% of babies in Russia were born outside of marriage, according to the thematic report of Rosstat (Federal State Statistics Service) at the end of 2018.
There is no such term as parental abduction or family kidnapping in the Russian legal system. The only regulation concerning parental abduction in the country is that a parent may be requested to provide written consent from the other parent to take a child abroad. However, written consent is only required when a child is accompanied by someone other than his parents or legal guardians. In most cases, the airport security does not question a parent’s right to travel with the child – even if the other parent is not there.
There is also no regulation of parental abduction cases that do not involve crossing the borders of the country. When there is no formal custody order and parents are living separately, parental abduction is not considered a crime. According to Russian family law, should the parents fail to negotiate child custody, the dispute is sent to the courts for a resolution. In 2014, there were almost 35,000 disputes, 36,000 in 2015 and 17,000 in the first half of 2016 alone.
There is currently no legal mechanism for enforcing the court’s decision, meaning that a parent may continue abducting the child against the legal order and face no measures except for minor financial fines. The only situation mentioned under Russian law is “creating an obstacle to communication with the second parent.” The fine is up to several thousand Rubles. If the divorce has not been legalized and the parents remain in a registered marriage, an act of parental abduction cannot be classified as kidnapping. The authorities have no right to interfere if there is no physical threat to the child’s wellbeing. The potential traumatizing consequences of parental alienation are not taken into account.
More and more parents are failing to pay child support in recent years. In 2019, the amount of unpaid child support hit a record figure of 152 billion RUB, a 13% rise from 2018 (130 billion RUB). Compared to 2012, the debt has increased seven times from 19.8 billion.
The Federal Bailiff Service estimates the total amount of alimony debts in Russia as 1 million RUB at any given time. The amount of debts that the bailiffs manage to collect does not exceed 10% of the total debt. Non-payers easily evade the legal demands of their former partners or pay symbolic sums of several hundred rubles per child. According to Rosstat statistics, every fifth parent granted alimony by a court decision does not actually receive it. Moreover, there is such a pattern that the more children there are in the family, the fewer chances are that the payer will provide the right amount of support. According to the statistics of the bailiff service, in the first half of 2019, there were 1.2 million court decisions on the recovery of alimony for 167 billion Rubles. Only a tenth of this amount is the cases that passed the court in 2019. The main bulk is what the bailiffs have been unsuccessfully trying to collect from non-payers for years.
Legal measures to prevent and punish parental abduction are weak in Russia. Parents cannot be considered kidnappers under the country’s criminal laws. Rather, parents who abduct their children can only be punished under the administrative laws – which are far less severe.
In reality, few parents are ever punished for abducting their children. The few criminal cases that have been initiated under Article 330 of the Criminal Code have never reached a verdict. The decision under such an article is also symbolic and does not provide for imprisonment. Even if a verdict were to be reached, it would result in just a fine. Consequently, parents who abduct their children in Russia face no consequences.
The only way to prevent a child from being taken abroad is to apply for a legal restriction. A parent should apply for a ban that forbids the child from crossing the borders of the country by providing a corresponding claim to the local department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the ban comes into force, the child will not be allowed to pass the airport security check.
Russia has joined the Hague Convention which regulates the legal aspects of international child abduction. However, because of the inconsistency of the Russian legal system in following the convention, a third of Hague Convention member countries have not yet acknowledged Russia as a signatory state. Time after time, Russian courts have refused to return children abducted to Russia.
Court Orders requesting the return of children under the Hague Convention are not effectively enforced in Russia.
Parental alienation is an even bigger issue than abduction – an issue that many ignore, that is often hidden behind closed doors and that has a devastating effect on children. Simply put parental alienation is when a child becomes estranged from one parent due to the psychological manipulation of another parent. This manipulation often results in the child fearing, disrespecting, or showing hostility towards the estranged parent and can also extend to other relatives. That parent is eventually removed from the child’s life, sometimes slowly and sometimes abruptly.
Parental alienation results in significant stress on the child and alienated parent and increases the risk of the child suffering from mental illness. In fact, parental alienation can be diagnosed as a mental disorder in children and is a form of child abuse. Children who are victims of parental alienation are also at higher risk of substance abuse and addiction, low self-esteem, trust issues, and relationship problems.
Hostile custody and divorce proceedings can fuel parental alienation – showing again how current custody laws fail to create an environment that supports the well-being of children Unfortunately, little data and information on parental alienation in Russia are available.
If one of the parents has reason to believe that the child can be taken away, experts advise preparing as much as possible by:
– Stabilizing your financial situation
– Getting the support of your family members and mutual friends, so that they do not switch sides in the event of a divorce
– Developing a trustful relationship with your child
– Ensuring you always know where your child is
The only way of mediating the conflict over child custody is for the parents to take mutual steps towards maintaining a healthy relationship after divorce. It is always best to reach an agreement before escalating the matter to legal structures, which in turn may result in an open conflict that would harm the child.
As soon as you fail to pay enough attention to your child, the other side may try to influence and instill in him that he/she is better than the other parent. This can lead to the child saying at the trial that he/she wants to live with a particular parent. This takes very little time since children are easy to persuade and they usually take the side of the parent who convinces them more persistently, turning them against the other parent.
Mediation is an option when parents are not able to reach an amicable agreement, but do not wish to take court action. A neutral party, or mediator, can assist in enabling parents to form a mutually acceptable decision on custody and contact with their children. In Russia, there is a state-funded Federal Institute of Mediation affiliated with the Ministry of Education offering mediation services to international families in the case of child custody and contract disputes. The mediation is provided in Russian and English, among other languages.
If your child has been abducted:
If your child is present in one of the countries Russia has partnered with under the Hague Convention, you can file an application requesting the child be returned or request access to the child. To do so, you will have to contact your attorney first: the only mechanism for applying the Convention in Russia is to make an official request through a lawyer. A list of lawyers in Russia can be found here.
Thanks to Evgeniya Dolina for the contribution in producing this country page.