Duma considers guardianship for mentally disabled

State Parliament to consider a Bill regarding joint custody and guardianship for people with mental disabilities


Moscow, 10.09.2015

A Bill on joint custody and guardianship for people with limited legal capacity and mental disorders has been brought before Parliament. In particular, the text proposes that NGOs which currently do not house or supervise wards, as well as legal bodies that specialise in providing social, medical and rehabilitation services, should be included within the group of eligible guardians. Experts say that joint custody is a step in the right direction.

The Bill was submitted to Parliament on 10 September by a group of senators including Zinaida Dragunkina, Andrey Klishas and Konstantin Dobrynin, together with Galina Karelov, Vice-Speaker of the Russian Federation’s Council. Duma members will propose a number of amendments to this Bill and other relevant legislation, as well as changes to Russia’s Civilian and Family Codes.

The aim of the Bill is to adapt Russian laws to the practices governing people with limited legal capacity and mental disabilities which were incorporated into the Civil Code in 2012. Dobrynin explained that the proposal has been drafted in consultation with those organisations directly involved with the welfare of people of limited legal capacity.

The Bill’s explanatory note quotes figures obtained from the Serbsky Centre for Social and Forensic Psychiatry which show that in 2011 the number of people under guardianship in Russian institutions exceeded 146,000 (i.e. 9.1% of the total of 1,600,000 disabled people who suffer from mental disorders). Of this number, more than 22,000 are in residential orphanages for mentally handicapped children. Legislators are proposing to give priority to the appointment of guardians for those living in such institutions.

In an interview with fapnews.ru, Dobrynin remarked “Under the current system, a guardian is not assigned to a charge admitted to a residential orphanage. Guardianship is provided by the institution itself with no-one else allowed to have a say in the life of the ward, which is frankly ridiculous. We are therefore proposing the appointment of external co-guardians who could be relatives or close friends of the individual concerned. We are pushing open the doors of residential orphanages a little bit to ensure that the rights of those who live there are better protected.”

Those NGOs involved in defending the rights of disabled people came out in favour of Dobrynin’s proposal to develop a package of draft federal legislation to improve the rights and freedoms of people with mental disorders under guardianship as far back as January 2014. According to experts, the Bill that has been put before Parliament is “essential and has been eagerly awaited.”

“A psycho-neurological residential orphanage (PNRO) is a social care institution that is obliged to provide social services. In practice, this means that every legally incapable person admitted is immediately given access to social services and comes within the orphanage’s guardianship. This can create a conflict of interest in that these institutions also provide and monitor services. Indeed, such conflicts are already outlawed in many European countries”, says Elena Klochko, member of the State Council on Guardianship in the Social Sector and Co-Chair of the Coordinating Council for Disabled Persons in the Federation’s Civic Chamber. Klochko added that the senators’ Bill proposes that an external guardian should be appointed for each person in a PNRO, i.e. someone who will defend their charge’s rights and monitor how their interests are being respected, thereby enabling residential social care institutions to get on with what they’re supposed to do, namely providing social services.

The inclusion of NGOs as eligible guardians and providers of social services is crucial, says Klochko “We also believe the Bill will enable alternatives to residential orphanages, as well as accommodation issues, to be considered” she added.

Evgeny Bunimovich, Ombudsman for Children’s Rights in Moscow, also supports the senators’ initiative and explained that the Bill would, if adopted, apply to all people suffering from mental illness, as well disabled adults and children who have been recognised as being of limited legal capacity by the courts. In an interview with the Parliament newspaper Bunimovich explained: “I wholeheartedly welcome the clarification of the legal provisions relating to mentally disabled people given the sensitivity and seriousness of the issues involved. Making the procedures clearer and easier to follow can only be a good thing”. He explained that there were large numbers of volunteers ready and willing to help this disabled group but who simply don’t have access to the private institutions that house these people. For this reason, joint guardianship is seen as a step in the right direction.

The Bill has the support of the Federation’s Presidential Council for the Coordination and Improvement of Civil Legislation. The Bill’s authors have also suggested that Parliament should scrutinise the draft text in a measured and timely manner.

Author: Yulia Vyatkina


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