MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Vera Politkovskaya)
The other day the lower house of Russia's parliament adopted in the first reading the presidential bill allowing the regional authorities to set a curfew for young teens (under age 14).
Although all State Duma deputies praise the general concept, they differ on some of its clauses, saying it is too soft and should be expanded to include kids under age 18.
Kids in the adolescent period, from ages 12 to 18, want to spend more time with their peers and tend to stay out longer when they have problems with their parents. At best, they hang out in cheap cafes, which are more or less safe, but at worst, they spend their time out in unsafe yards, porches, and attics.
If they learn that they are allowed to stay out at night starting at the age of 14, they will use this as the final, overpowering argument in quarrels with their parents.
The MPs note that it is usually children from troubled families and at-risk children who hang out at night. They plan to fine their parents and summon them for counseling if the police catch their kids hanging out after curfew.
But will this change such parents' attitudes toward their children?
In Russia, neglected kids are those who have housing (family) but nevertheless stay out. Homeless children are those who have no home or permanent residence. In most cases, groups of homeless children settle in railway terminals, where they beg for money under the watchful eye of a local gang leader.
Homeless kids say they like this more than living in an orphanage or even with their parents, who are mostly alcoholics who tell their children to get lost, or behave in such an abominable way that their children run away from them. Some of these kids say they have more to eat now, begging in the street, and would not consider returning to their parents.
How can the parliament set a curfew on homeless kids? This is an extremely important question, because curfew would drive such children into a deeper social pit. Underage bums usually join criminal street gangs, which further decreases their chances of returning to normal life.
Such kids are wholly dependent on the gang boss and gradually become criminals themselves, which adults are only too happy to tell them. The criminal lure will become even stronger for such kids with the introduction of the curfew, unless something is done to prevent this.
Statistics show that kids never flee from family orphanages because they love living there. However, homeless kids detained by police are usually handed over from one social agency to another without ever reaching a family orphanage. Besides, there are too few such orphanages in Russia, and such kids will use their first available chance to flee from an ordinary orphanage.
Against the background of homeless kids, the presidential bill seems untimely and immature. The authorities claim to be concerned over "negative influences on the physical, spiritual and moral development of children", but they should first do something for homeless kids. At best, they may allocate more funds for establishing family orphanages, find the homeless kids, cure them of diseases and place them in an environment they will not want to leave.
There are presumably 2 to 5 million homeless children in Russia, and some analysts claim the recent growth in the birth rate may eventually increase the number of homeless kids. Many problem families have a second or third child because the government has promised such parents 250,000 rubles in monetary compensation in addition to a monthly allowance.
Of course, other countries have homeless children and problem families, too. If the government has decided to do something about children hanging out at night, it should take care not of the families that can pay a fine for their unruly kids, but above all of the homeless children who are living semi-legally on the streets.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.