English translation of the debate in the Saeima (Latvian Parliament) on 28 January 2016 on the Declaration on the Protection of the Rights of Minor Latvian Nationals in Foreign Countries. The declaration was unanimously adopted by the Saeima.
This is not an official translation. The transcript in Latvian of the proceedings is here. A video of the debate is below:
[Speaker]: The next item on the agenda is the draft decision ‘Declaration on the Protection of minors in Latvia in the field of children’s rights’ by Imants Parādnieks, Inguna Sudraba, Janis Dombrava, Inga Bite, Andrejs Elksnins, Julia Stepanenko, Gunārs Kūtris, Igors Pimenovs, Rihards Kols, Gaidis Bērziņš and Boris Cilevičs, as well as the alternative draft decision submitted by the Commission for Human Rights and Public Affairs – ‘Declaration on the Protection of the Rights of Minors in Latvia Abroad’.
First, on behalf of the Commission, Member Lolita Gigane will report on both draft decisions, and then there will be a debate on both. Thereafter, there will be a vote, first of all on the draft decision that the Commission has asked to reject, and then on the alternative draft declaration.
Dear Madam President of the Saeima! Dear collegues!
As Saeima Speaker has already informed us, the MPs who were mentioned drafted a declaration that the Saeima decided to refer to the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee. In this draft declaration, MEPs have drawn attention to situations where guardians are appointed to children of Latvian nationals in other Member States of the European Union and in other countries and found that there have been specific situations in which the authorities have not informed the diplomatic missions of Latvia about the specific activities that are being carried out.
In the draft declaration originally submitted, the deputies urged the foreign authorities to comply with the Vienna Convention in the best interests of the children, and set out a number of tasks for various institutions of the Latvian State in this regard.
After this draft declaration was sent to the Human Rights and Public Affairs Commission. The Commission began a long and thorough review with a full understanding of the situation. I believe that this was a very valuable process, because we really understood all the different problems, the issues that arise for the citizens of Latvia (and which can happen to anyone!) whether they may not have been fully able to take care of their children and if in such cases another the state – either the European Union Member State or another country – have decided on, for example, the appointment of custodians for these children.
The Commission thoroughly discussed these issues and heard the Saeima Legal Bureau’s opinion. And I want to thank the Saeima Legal Bureau, who has been very active in developing an alternative draft. I would also like to thank the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their very active and analytical reporting of the specific situations that have arisen.
And the result of this long process: thanks to the fact that non-commissioned Members engaged in this work and submitted proposals, the Commission drafted an alternative Declaration, which largely clarifies both the references to the Vienna Convention and the specific terms that are being used, as well as the way in which the link between the Vienna Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is clearly indicated, and the extent to which foreign competent authorities are called upon to respect and the duty of the Latvian state to defend, the interests and rights of its own nationals outside of Latvia.
The alternative draft declaration also envisages assigning to the Cabinet of Ministers the obligation to inform about the adoption of this declaration in the Saeima, the respective countries where such cases have occurred, to represent Latvian citizens in different relevant institutions in other countries where such situations arise, and this is very important – educate Latvian citizens on what standards of childcare and rules should be observed.
Dear collegues! As the President of the Saeima has already said, the Commission has been working diligently on this project and therefore calls for not supporting the draft Declaration originally drawn up, but to agree to the draft Declaration prepared by the Commission, as it is much more precise in terms.
[Speaker]. Thank you to the rapporteur. Let’s start the debate.
The name of the deputy Artusam Kaimiņam.
A.Kaimiņš (pie frakcijām nepiederošs deputāts) [Non-attached Member].
Well, good morning, people’s servants!
So, within one year the Latvian state loses most of its young Latvian citizens in traffic accidents. The second position is the children taken abroad from families of Latvian citizens. In order to have a wider perspective, I … These figures are very tragic: 53 children were … In 2010, there were 53 cases; in 2011 there are 88; in 2012, 102; in 2013 – 132; in 2014 – 122 cases and in 2015 – 99 cases, of which 25 of these children were removed from families.
This means (and these figures show) that people are not aware. Those people who live abroad have no sense and understanding about the laws, rules and customs of that country. This declaration contains a very important task for the Cabinet of Ministers. The Cabinet of Ministers will be responsible for informing the families of Latvian citizens living abroad about the norms, requirements and customs of the country in the field of protection of children’s rights.
Citizens of Latvia who choose to live abroad need practical assistance on the rules and requirements of the home country in matters of children’s rights. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to gather this information and use all the means at its disposal to inform Latvian citizens abroad. The sheer number of cases indicates that such information is disastrously deficient. Citizens of Latvia who live abroad do not have to become international law experts in the field of child adoption and children’s rights, they need to be clear about what they can and should not do in their country of residence.
Consequently, I would like to reject the first proposed draft, and to support the alternative draft of the Human Rights Commission, as the first proposal was not technically correct and accurately developed. Since everyone has done better in the second draft, please reject the first one, and support the alternative.
[Speaker]. Thank you
Dear colleagues! There is a document that will finally help the Foreign Ministry strengthen its political will in protecting the interests of our citizens.
Given that the Vienna Convention continues to be violated and this year we have discovered another case in which our responsible services were not informed about the removal of a child from the family, this is a very important turning point in our rights protection.
For all reasonable people it’s clear that the family is the best place for the child and also how traumatic it is for a child to be forcibly separated from his or her parents. Unfortunately, in practice, the principle of “best interests of the child” is being misused against the child’s own family and the interests of the child are being spoken for by someone who is a stranger – a social worker.
You are mistaken, dear colleagues, if you think that children are taken away only from completely unfit parents who put them at risk or do not care about them. You are also mistaken if you judge such situations by the parent’s personality and behavior during the process. Never do this because the child is not property that can be lost due to someone’s distraction and the child is not a sanction or prize that can be awarded or denied. The child is entitled to and the child wants to return to the family.
In this situation, I call upon you to think first and foremost as a child and not focus simply on what its parents did or did not do. Why do we entrust a foreign system to decide the fate of our families? We need to consider each such case in light of the potentially high percentage error that is assumed by employees of the relevant services themselves, for example, in the United Kingdom, it is surprising that the social workers say, “It is better we break ten normal families to save one child from danger, than we do nothing.” Think about the price that is paid under such an approach.
I personally contacted seven mothers and one grandmother, and they each have their own story … All are Latvian citizens. They are normal people. Some of them have managed to save their children, but some have not.
For example, a case from British case-law. Parents Karrissa Cox and Richard Carter were arrested because their six-week-olds had health problems. The parents were blamed for these problems. After three years of trial, the parents were acquitted, but the child had already been adopted. The child has lost his parents. This is a mistake!
Another blatant, historic example of injustice: Australia implemented a policy of taking away children of unmarried and poor mothers and by placing them in foster families. This practice took place from the end of the Second World War until the 1970s, and thus affected thousands of children, and only very recently the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard acknowledged this terrible mistake on behalf of the country and apologized to all the people of who had suffered from this injustice.
Coming back to Britain: 95 per cent of the approximately 5,000 adoptions that take place every year are so-called forced adoptions. This is not the technical term, but it is the term that conveys that the parents did not consent. And this is not because parents have died or have not been able to express their will; these parents are fighting for their children and in no way consent to the separation of their children from them.
Without knowing their rights, in a stressful situation, parents are often forced to sign various documents, including those legally translated as abandoning the child. Usually they are capable, normal people.
If parents are allowed to meet with a child, they are supervised and are not allowed to speak with the child in their mother tongue because each contact is “judged” and the children are made to live separately.
At the moment, I personally know eight children who are forcibly separated from their family. But the Ministry of Justice certainly has a lot more such data. Some of these children are being prepared for adoption, just as we have already lost the little girl Katarina. Then the question arises: how many children must be adopted before the Latvian state begins to react and fulfill the functions specified in Article 98 of the Constitution [which says that: Everyone who has a Latvian passport is under the protection of the state outside of Latvia and he/she has a right to freely return to Latvia. A citizen of Latvia may not be extradited to foreign countries.]?!
We must also follow the example of other countries. The Czech President has been very strong on the rights of the child; Slovakia has released two of its children from British Social Services.
In the light of the recent refugee crisis in Europe some tend to compare our nationals to economic refugees, thus paving the way for the pro-refugees accepting argument. But have you heard of a refugee child being removed from its family?
You can see those people traveling to Europe in unsafe inflatable boats, some of them even not wearing a life jacket and why the United Kingdom is not shocked to accept 700 refugee children in the year 2015 – I have not heard of the refugee child parents being accused of putting the child in danger.
The President, together with the Minister of Justice, agreed on the provision of assistance to children abroad on 11 August last year. Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, on September 1 this year has established a working group for the protection of children of Latvian citizens abroad!
In light of all this, it will be a huge disgrace to the state, if even when the top officials of the country have engaged in these issues, we continue to lose our children. We all will get laughed at in the international arena.
It is now clear that Latvia lacks a unified policy to protect children’s rights abroad. It will not be enough to defend our citizens with silence in court and soft, pleading letters. A clear diplomatic but firm stance is needed on this issue. I invite Members to follow up on this declaration and to promote a clear and stable mechanism for the protection of children. If I understand correctly, this declaration could be the first international document in which Latvia emphasizes its rights and obligations to care for its children, and calls on other countries to do so. With this declaration, Latvia will be among the countries that have clearly identified their priorities in the field of child protection, and will likely get interlocutors and peers in this struggle for their citizens.
Dear colleagues, in conclusion, in my view, both versions of the Declaration are quite good. As one of the co-authors, I was fighting for some things to remain. Therefore, I will support both options, while realizing that the second option is legally more correct and more diplomatic.
I would like to thank my fellow Members for their input into the Declaration. I would also like to thank the Ministries and Consular staff and Ambassadors who are faithfully fulfilling their duties in protecting the interests of our citizens. I believe that we can, in a diplomatic way, be vigilant in asserting our interests and not be afraid of doing so.
I urge all legislators whoever you should be and whatever your ideology to take this Declaration into account and get involved as soon as possible.
The name of the deputy Igoram Pimenovam.
In addition to what my colleagues have already said, I want to draw the attention of those Members who believe that our declaration is an attempt to interfere in the proceedings and the legal system of other Member States of the European Union, because our declaration is not an interference. It recalls those rights, those which are universally accepted and required to be followed by international organizations, as well as the Vienna Convention.
The situation is very complicated. For example, in the same UK, the Secretary of Family Affairs is actually pursuing a policy in accordance with a specific plan for adopting children in the United Kingdom. And for the five thousand who have already been mentioned, the minister has said that it is low and that even more children are waiting for their new families, so the Social Services need to work even more firmly to remove children. Although the highest judge [of the Family Courts in England] in April last year admitted that Social Services in the UK in family affairs have in fact violated international norms that are binding on the United Kingdom.
And the last thing I would say: The failure of our country, in some cases the mistakes made by the UK and other countries in the proceedings and the actions of certain social services forced our fellow citizens to in fact violate the laws of the countries concerned and flee back to Latvia.
In order to normalize this situation, in order to involve our institutions in the legitimate processes that ensure the rights of our children and our families, we need to adopt an appropriate document that is stronger than the practice that has been implemented so far, including through the participation of our State authorities and specific experts in the field of the protection of children’s rights.
I urge the Saeima to support the Commission’s Declaration. Thank you.
[Speaker]. Thank you, I close the debate.
Does the Rapporteur want to add anything on behalf of the Commission?
Dear collegues! As the debate has already confirmed, the Commission worked hard on this draft alternative Declaration, with the constructive engagement of all parties, therefore, on behalf of the Commission, I ask to reject the draft Declaration originally submitted and adopt the draft proposed by the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee.
[Speaker]. Thank you
Please call! We will be voting on the draft resolution Declaration on the Protection of Minor Latvian Citizens Abroad in the Framework of the Rights of the Child by Imants Parādnieks, Inguna Sudraba, Jānis Dombravas, Inga Bite, Andrejs Elksniņš, Julija Stepanenko, Gunārs Kūtra, Igors Pimenovs, Rihards Kols, Gaida Bērziņš and Boris Cilevičs. Please vote in mode! Please rate! For – 28, against – 31, abstentions – 12. The draft decision has been rejected.
Please call! We will vote on the alternative draft Declaration prepared by the Human Rights and Citizens’ Affairs Commission “Declaration on the Protection of the Rights of Minors in Latvia Abroad”! Please vote in mode! … For – 75, against and abstention – none. Saeima decision “Declaration on the protection of the rights of minor citizens of Latvia abroad” was adopted.