The Russian Orthodox Church was incensed last summer when lawmakers – acting upon a recommendation by the Supreme Court – criminalised domestic violence.
And when something happens in Russia to infuriate the Church, steps immediately have to be taken to soothe it, so on Wednesday, according to this report, Russian lawmakers moved to decriminalise some forms of domestic violence for first-time offenders who do not inflict “serious” physical harm to their victims.
Yelena B Mizulina, above, one of the initiators of the new legislation and author of a law that banned “gay propaganda” aimed at minors, said in this report:
In Russian traditional family culture, parent-child relationships are built on the authority of the parents’ power … The laws should support that family tradition.
And the Russian Orthodox Church, which has steadily increased its influence in social policy in recent years, said in a statement that physical punishment was a Russian tradition and thus should be protected as:
An essential right given to parents by God. There is absolutely no doubt that children should be defended against true criminal activities. But you cannot equate such criminal assaults with rational and moderate use of physical punishment by loving parents.
Members of the State Duma passed the controversial amendment to the Russian criminal code in its second reading, which essentially assures it will go to President Vladimir V Putin for his signature.
The amendment treats a first conviction for domestic battery as an administrative offence, carrying a penalty of a $500 (£400) fine or 15 days in jail. If Putin signs the measure into law, only injuries like concussions or broken bones, or repeated offences committed in a family setting, would lead to criminal charges.
Defenders of the measure say it will protect parents’ rights to discipline their children and generally reduce the state’s role in domestic life.
Opponents called it a step back to medieval times and a licence for violent behavior by domestic tyrants.
Said Svetlana G Aivazova, a Russian specialist in gender studies:
It is clear that lawmakers recognised violence as a norm of family life. This shows that Duma deputies are not simply conservative or traditional, it shows that they are archaic.
Aivazova and other experts say that Russia has a serious problem with domestic violence. Citing data provided by Russia’s Interior Ministry, Aivazova told Putin in 2015 that:
Forty percent of all grave violent crimes are committed in families.
In 2013, she said, more than 9,000 women died in criminal assaults and more than 11,000 were badly injured. In 2014, she said:
More than 25 percent of all murders were committed in families.
In the United States, by comparison, 11,766 women were killed by a husband or boyfriend in the years 2001 to 2012, an average of about 1,000 a year in a country with about twice the population of Russia.
Aivazova asked Putin to support a special law on the prevention of domestic violence that had already been passed in 143 countries, including Russia’s post-Soviet neighbors Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
In the past, Putin has expressed concern about domestic violence, even in the absence of serious injury. He told journalists at his last news conference in December:
I think we should not slap children and justify it based on some old traditions. There is a short distance from slaps to beating.
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, said the new legislation was a sign of the state’s determination:
To make conditions for strong families to emerge.