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Let the Family Sort It Out

Why Belarusian “pro-lifers” oppose the proposed law on domestic violence. From Euroradio.

by Masha Kolesnikova 6 September 2018

Belarus's proposed new law on domestic violence – which strengthens some protections and widens the scope of what is considered domestic violence – has brought into focus the question of balancing state intervention and interferences into private life, which is a strained issue not just in the post-Soviet sphere, but elsewhere in the world. The law is due for debate this fall, and at least some change is likely, given President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s public stance. “I have repeatedly drawn attention to the clearly insufficient measures to prevent and combat domestic crime, particularly domestic violence. Think about it, almost a third of the homicides in the country are domestic homicides,” he said back in February, according to Belta, the state news agency.

 

Belarusian “pro-family” Orthodox organizations have written to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, asking for a modification of the underlying concept of the law on domestic violence. “The family ought to have its own resources and mechanisms for the resolution of internal conflicts,” they wrote.

 

The pro-lifers called the document, drafted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs together with public organizations, a “profanation” that would lead to the degradation of the family as an institution and to the devaluation of moral and cultural values.

 

Among the signatories of the letter were Save the Infants, the Mamaleto Center of Support for the Family and Motherhood, Fatherhood, A City Without Drugs, Open Hearts, the Intercession Center of Support for the Family and Motherhood, representatives of the United Christian Pentecostal Church in Belarus, and representatives of the Evangelical Christian Baptists.

 

“We oppose the rights of children being placed above the rights of parents, the result of which will be letting children threaten their parents if their [the children's] whims are not indulged,” said Yuliia Yaroslavtseva, one of the heads of Save the Infants, explaining the position of the charitable association. “Of course, one mustn't close one's eyes to aggression against children, nor must the government permit brutal beatings that result in serious trauma, nor sexual violence. But it is also not right to take a child away from its family due to a single act, or for parents' refusal of whims. We would prefer a more specific explanation of what is acceptable punishment of a child. If the law is passed, children will experience enormous stress as a result of being taken away from their families, which will further complicate relations with their parents.”

 

Andrei Zubenko, the head of the Intercession Center of Support for the Family and Motherhood, thinks that the proposed law on domestic violence was “paid for by the West.” In his opinion, it is better to solve the problems of Belarusian families not through “aggressive state interference in family affairs, but by educating through  [displaying] mercy and mutual understanding, which are inherent in traditional values.”

 

“What domestic violence is there in Belarus?” Zubenko complained. “If something happens in one family, it is straight away multiplied by 10 million, through all the news outlets, deliberately in order to make such a law. But there are also normal families, where people live normally. Why not show that kind of family to society? If there are many children, and they're well brought up, maybe they should receive awards? Why don't we talk positively about the family, but always seek the negative?”

 

“We need to educate people, introduce family teaching in schools, work on the positive, talk about moral and family values,” he continued. “Whereas this law will destroy the family from within. It takes as an example Western countries, where there is no ‘family’ as such, and where there are same-sex marriages. Family values are the key to success. We march on Victory Day. We remember our grandfathers. But how are we going to honor them with a law like this?”

 

Checklists for Domestic Aggressors

 

According to data from the Interior Ministry, every year there are around 120,000 calls to the police about domestic violence.

 

The new law is set to widen the definition of domestic violence and its participants. It will permit the conflicting sides to be separated immediately, as soon as the police arrive, and not several days later, as happens currently. In addition, the term “risk assessment” is being introduced: “checklists” will be established for domestic aggressors, which will permit assessment of the degree of repetition of the incident. Also provided for in the law are rehabilitation programs, which an aggressor can volunteer to undertake. The draft law contains such terms as “financial abuse” and “psychological abuse.” If the bill is approved this fall by the House of Representatives (the lower house of parliament) and the head of state, and enters into force, the police can be called for any incident of violence against children.

 

These are not the law’s only detractors. At the beginning of August, Belarus's Catholic archbishop, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, commented publicly on the proposed law on domestic violence, saying that the concept contradicts the national, cultural, and spiritual traditions of the Belarusian people, and expressed concern that the state would in this way gain additional opportunities to oversee families of believers, who are undertaking a religious upbringing for their children.

 

Will President Lukashenka and Interior Ministry officials listen to the country's senior Catholic priest, and Orthodox groups? It is not clear. However, it is interesting that the pro-lifers' active position in 2014 led to changes in the law “On Healthcare,” when obligatory pre-abortion counselling was introduced. At the time, human rights and social rights activists considered that a violation of human rights.

Masha Kolesnikova is a reporter at the Minsk-based European Radio for Belarus (ERB). The original version of this article, in Russian, was published on the ERB website. TOL has done some editing to fit our style. Reprinted with permission.

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