More than 50 Russian mothers have been targeted by the Finnish social services over the past three years, according to the Russian Children's Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov. Do Russians get ‘special treatment’ from local authorities? What happens to children who are taken away from their families? And why would a democratic state support a system, criticized as abusive by UN agencies?
Says Dr. Johan Backman, Adjunct Professor in Sociology of Law and Criminology at the Helsinki University:
The latest case is concerning the Russian mother Elena Polushkina in Helsinki whose 14-year old child Vitaliy was taken from her by the social services of Finland. And the problem is about the legislation, obviously, because in many Western countries there is a law about protecting a child. And, for example, in Finland the law about child protection gives the authorities the right to take a child out of the family for other reasons, only on the basis of suspicions by the social services.
Actually, this is written in the Finnish law that the basis for seizing a child from the parents can be a worry of the social services. So, a worry is a very subjective feeling. It is a subjective thought. And a child can be taken without the court order and the police can come into the house without a court order. And the child is also taken without any kind of investigation.
So, the reason for taking a child is only the worry – the subjective feeling and the subjective thought of the social services’ employees. And in several cases, unfortunately, in Finland and also in Norway several Russian mothers have ended up in a very strange situation. They are a good family, they don’t have any specific problems, but suddenly the police come and take the child to a children’s home or to a foster family.
And in several cases the reason has been an accusation by somebody claiming that the child was slapped by the mother, for example.
But even in these cases we don’t have any evidence if the child was slapped or not, because it is always based on somebody’s interpretation of what was said by the child at school, for example. But we have these kinds of cases. In Finland, for example we already have dozens of cases when a Russian child is taken from a Russian mother without any clear, evident and serious reason.
Does it also apply to families of other nationalities or are the Russians in a particular focus?
Dr. Johan Backman: I think that the Russians are in a particular focus, because the question is about the values. The question is about the family values. And I have to say that the family values of the Russians are different from the family values of the Europeans or Finns. And in these cases the problem is that for the Russians the family is more important. And the upbringing of a child, the love for a child, it is more important.
And this can be interpreted negatively by the Finnish authorities, for example, because the society in Finland is very different, it is a very different state and it has a very different ideology and legislation. In a way a child belongs to the state from birth, it is kind of a property of the state.
Dr. Johan Backman: And in many cases the parental rights are quite limited. There actually are plenty of human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, scholars who agree in this case that the child protection system is a nightmare.
How has it all started, because it is really something which is in violation of natural instincts. But who actually got the idea?
Dr. Johan Backman: That’s a very good question. We are of course trying to study the history of the child protection system to understand why it has become as it is today. But, for example, in Finland today up to 20 000 children according to the official statistics are living outside their family. And obviously these are not orphans, they have families, they have mothers and fathers and other relatives. But anyway, they are taken away from them and they are taken to a foster family.
It is a problem, it is a human rights issue. According to the official statistics we have, as I said, up to 20 000 such cases, but actually there are much more. The problem is that in Finland the sphere of child protection is very much privatized. So, the majority of children’s homes in Finland are actually private companies.
So, the state takes no financial burden in this case?
Dr. Johan Backman: No, the state takes a huge financial burden, because the state is financing the private children’s homes. The state is paying to the private children’s homes, but in Finland and in Europe in general it is fashionable to privatize public services. And in this case the majority of the children’s homes in Finland are privatized. And once a child gets into the children’s home, of course, the owner of this children’s home doesn’t want to let him go back, because it means huge amount of money for the children’s home.
And so, the human rights activists in Finland have been trying to find out how many private children’s homes we have in Finland, because we don’t have any register. We just have to find it out by ourselves. And now, according to some findings, we have up to 600 private children’s homes in Finland, which are private companies and they are seizing children.
And it seems to me that the problem is also about corruption, because employees of the social services, they establish their own companies very often. So, their colleagues and friends, they deliver them children. So, it is actually trade of children. It is horrible!
But on the other hand, I remember not so long ago there has been a large dispute in Norway about the problem of incest in those families who are living in the more or less isolated conditions, out of large cities. And people seem to be not quite upset about this issue. But this is really and definitely a crime according to some European legislations. And this is certainly child abuse.
Dr. Johan Backman: And actually the children’s homes become an actual violence against a child. I mean, there are huge amounts of various kinds of ways children are being abused in these children’s homes. In my opinion, the fact that we are speaking about the trade of children, that is already an abuse.
And we have the cases of sexual abuse by the employees of the children’s homes. In Finland, for example, we have the court cases, convictions, we have the court cases of violence. But in general, I would say that this is violence against children – the whole system is violence against children, against parents, against families. And this is a criminal and corrupt system.
And nobody has the right to check the private children’s homes. Nobody has the right, because they are private companies and nobody has the right to check a private company. Only the tax service can check the private company. We even had a court case where the municipal employees wanted to check a private children’s home in Finland. And the state employees were convicted of trespassing, because it was a private territory and they didn’t have the right to be there.
But at the same time, those social workers do have the right to enter into private homes to check the conditions?
Dr. Johan Backman: At any moment.
Where is the logic? No logic? No one questions it?
Dr. Johan Backman: We are questioning it, we have been doing it for years. And this has been a huge scandal in Russia, because it is one issue when the rights of the Finns and of other nationalities in Finland are being violated, but now, when there are dozens of cases of the Russian mothers who have become victims of this kind of terror… I mean, it is a political terror.
And psychological terror too.
Dr. Johan Backman: It is a psychological terror, it is violence against children. So, the violence against children by the child protection is much worse, than the alleged violence against children in the families. But these services, they are spreading out this anti-family ideology. They think that a family is the worst thing on the planet, because parents are beating their children and parents are taking drugs and alcohol, etc. And they are proliferating this propaganda in the media.
Why would they do that? What is the ultimate goal behind that?
Dr. Johan Backman: It is money, because they own private children’s homes. It is very profitable to seize children from the families.
I think that it is like the slaves trade. It is easy money. Proliferating this anti-family propaganda, seizing children without a reason, establishing more private children’s homes, seizing tens of thousands of children and getting a huge amount of profit – it is easy money. Now we are talking about the system of stealing children from families…
Creating artificial orphans, right?
Dr. Johan Backman: Well, they are artificial orphans, but they are actually prisoners. They are prisoners, because you have to understand that the private children’s homes are like the prisons. They are locked up in the private children’s homes.
How are they supposed to socialize as soon as they grow up?
Dr. Johan Backman: They don’t socialize. They are being drugged, first of all, if they protest. And, of course, everybody protests. The parents protest, the children protest. If the parents protest, the social services make a special decision about prohibiting the parents to maintain any contact with the children. That is a very typical decision. So, first, they make a decision of seizing a child and when the child and the parents protest, then they make an additional decision about prohibiting any communication.
And that is even worse than in prisons, because our prisoners have the right to communicate. They can call from the prison, they can send letters. But the children cannot communicate with their parents, they are isolated from the parents and then they are brainwashed. They are given the drugs and they are locked up in the children’s homes, and what happens in the children’s homes – nobody knows.
We have several cases of documentary films made about these children’s homes by Sweden. In Sweden we have the same problem. Sweden, Finland, it is mostly the western European countries, especially Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Scandinavian countries. We have the same problem in Germany. We have the same problem in France. In fact, the problem exists in most Western countries. So, we have the problem in the New Zealand. We have it in Australia.
How about Spain – a traditional Catholic country?
Dr. Johan Backman: It seems to me that the traditional Catholic countries are more sensible about the issue, like Spain, maybe France. But we unfortunately have a negative experience with France as well. The problem is that for many Russian citizens and Russian mothers…and the Russian citizens today live everywhere. So, we have the information about the violation of the rights of the Russian mothers and of their children from New Zealand, for example.
But the worst information we have is from Finland and Norway. And this is probably because these countries are neighboring Russia, and they have plenty of the Russian families, Russian children, Russian citizens living in these countries. And now we have dozens of cases when the Russian mothers and families have ended up in a very serious, very terrible situation which has come as a surprise for them.
That is literally hell!
Dr. Johan Backman: It is worse than hell. I have investigated these issues for several years, for more than 5 years now. And in my opinion the question is also about Russophobia and about political repression. So, the Russian mothers, who very often are in a quite weak position in Finland (they do not belong to the elite of the society and they are mostly the working class, they live in the working class regions), they have become the victims of a new kind of political terror. On the basis of what I have read and seen, and I talked to these people, to dozens of victims of this kind of political persecution, I would say that they are the victims of political terror. And this is the terror against their values – against their family values. In all the cases about which I know, the Russian families in Finland, they are from good families, they are good parents, they have good children. But then somebody, for example, we had an example of the teacher at school who called the social service employees and said that the child has allegedly said that the Russian mother slapped her and, as the result, the child was taken. But often there is a very strong ideological conflict and practical conflict between the Finnish employees of the social service and the Russian mother, because the Finnish employees behave themselves very arrogantly, they come at your home whenever they like, without any kind of court order and the Russian mother might protest, of course.
We have the cases in which the mother was taken into a mental hospital later. This is also a supplementary political pressure. When the child is taken, the mother is very nervous, very emotional and the social services then begin manipulating the situation, saying that you are too emotional, maybe you need some help. And in several cases the mother ended up in a mental hospital.
But in Finland, unfortunately, the person can be taken into a mental hospital without the court order. So, it can be done, again, because the employees of the social service, they together decide what to do. What to do with this case? What to do with that case? And if they don’t like the Russian mother, which unfortunately happens, because the Finnish press is full of anti-Russian propaganda all the time?
So, you are saying that you are not the only one and that there are people who are trying to protest against this situation. What specifically are you planning to do? Making the population aware of the problem is one thing. But then, what next?
Dr. Johan Backman: The population of Finland and Russia as well are aware of the situation, are very well aware, because it is debated in the Russian media and in the Finnish media. The Finnish media is debating on what is being debated on in the Russian media. And of course, the Finnish media has been debating on the issue for maybe 20 years already – the problems of the child protection system.
But regarding the violations, for example, the Committee for the Rights of the Child of the UN, every year they criticize Finland for systematic violation of the rights of the child. Every year! And every year the Finnish Foreign Ministry is doing everything to hide this criticism. So, it is not published anywhere in Finland.
We are trying to publish it. I have been saying this to the Finnish media, but the Finnish media doesn’t want to talk with us. Of course, from time to time there are articles and stories about this in the Finnish media as well. And they have been for a long time. But the problem is that, even though we are talking about this, even though everybody knows, nothing happens.
Do we have any statistics, perhaps, or any kind of research done, to show that the separation from families is traumatizing a child and that creates additional social problems?
Dr. Johan Backman: That’s very good, you said it very well. And it can be understood without any research.
But if those political people want some kind of proof and proof is something very hard to argue with.
Dr. Johan Backman: They don’t want any proof, because we have a new law on child protection. It is a very liberal law. And who passed this law? The members of the parliament, of course. They make laws, they pass laws. And how owns the private children’s homes? The members of the parliament. So, they make laws for themselves.
Isn’t it a conflict of interests?
Dr. Johan Backman: It is a conflict of interests but it is legal. It is not illegal for a member of parliament to be an owner of a private children’s home. It is fully legal. But the problem is that we don’t have the information about what is happening inside the system.
You don’t have the figures?
Dr. Johan Backman: The Finnish Ministry of Social Welfare publishes some kind of statistics, but we have been able to prove that these statistics are fake. They say that every year in Finland 17 or 18 thousand children live outside their families. But we have been able to show this statistic as fake. So, actually, we don’t know how many children live outside their families, we don’t know their nationalities. We know only the people who have contacted us and told about their own lives, their experiences, who have delivered us the documents of their cases. We know only about these cases.
And I have to say that I have never seen a single case in which the children should really have been taken from the family. They are all fabricated accusations against the parents.
Yes, of course! Because the real criminals and child abusers do not turn to organizations, as far as I understand.
Dr. Johan Backman: Well, they are probably the owners of the children’s homes, because nobody is controlling them. There is no control and we don’t know anything. In fact, we don’t have the information about the situation. We don’t have the information about the activities of the officials. We don’t have the information about what is happening inside the children’s homes.
That’s the golden liberal standard.
Dr. Johan Backman: They disappeared to these private prisons. These are children’s prisons and we have to talk about the existence of the system or the network, or the archipelago of children’s prisons in the western Europe – in Finland, in Norway, in Germany and various other countries.
That is really amazing, because there is another problem of jails and penitentiary institutions, the way they put it, which are said to have extra humane conditions in the Scandinavian countries. Remember Breivik!
Dr. Johan Backman: They are humane, they are like hotels.
Absolutely! But then, innocent children who need to be, like they say, protected, are put into inhumane conditions. That’s crazy!
Dr. Johan Backman: It is more than crazy, it is hellish or brutal.
So, is there any hope of correcting the situation? As far as I understand, we need to fight it and we need to fight it under any circumstances. But is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
Dr. Johan Backman: Of course, the human rights activists in Finland have been doing this for years and there is a debate around this problem for maybe 20 years already. But there is no progress. If we criticize the system, they answer us that we have the best child protection system in the world.
If I had been a Finnish mother, I would have gone to another country to have a child, really.
Dr. Johan Backman: Well, the Finnish mothers also become the victims of this. Actually, we have this kind of liberation movement of the Finnish families established some two years ago. It is called October Movement and it is led by a Finnish mother Maria Damert. And Maria Damert is a journalist, a mother and she writes books, and she is leading this October Movement. They have a website and they are delivering and sharing their experiences, and they are trying to influence the situation. But unfortunately, there has been no success, because the authorities don’t react.
What about the church?
Dr. Johan Backman: That’s a very good question. The church is actually very actively helping these children. And the most interesting thing is that Lutheran Church in Finland, which is the state church, they are giving a shelter for seized children in the way that when the children are taken violently from their parents, they are put into these children’s prisons, when they escape… and each year there are approximately 4 000 cases of escape of a child from this private children’s home. 4 000 cases in Finland each year!
So, it is a huge amount of children. I mean, every day they are running away. If you open any Finnish newspaper, almost every day there are photographs of children saying that these children are missing. But these missing children are the children who escaped from the private children’s homes. Usually, they escape when they want to return to their parents.
But the Finnish Lutheran Church has recently reacted that they give a shelter for the escapee children.
Do they cooperate with the social protection?
Dr. Johan Backman: No, because they have special regulations of the Church and they say that the church should give a shelter for the persecuted. And recently the Church has started to give a shelter for children who have escaped from the private prisons and the children are staying, for example, somewhere in the church. And this is a very good development in this case, because, as you can understand, it is horrible…
It is a full-blown war against the kids.
Dr. Johan Backman: It is the war against the families, because they want to destroy the families. They want to destroy the families, seizing the children by fabricating various accusations against the parents. And very often, after they seized a child, they pressure the parents to divorce, for example. The situation is that the authorities seized a child from the parents, and the child is in the private children’s home. There is no court involved in it, no judge. It is all in the hands of the social workers who are very often, unfortunately, are sadists. And these cases are very typical.
And one issue, which has been even more radical, is the terrorist acts against the social workers. So, the social workers are attacked violently by the victims of this terror. This has happened several times during the recent years, but it is not openly discussed. There is the information about the violent attacks against the social workers, as kind of revenge. So, there is even a possibility of violent terrorism.
And the worst of all are suicides in this situation. There even are the so-called collective suicides, that in the case of the threats or in the threat of seizing the children the parents kill the children and themselves. In Finland it is called a family suicide, it is a situation where the parent kills all the children and her- or himself. And recently, a couple so weeks ago we had a case in Finland where a mother killed her two small children.
And this case is very strange, because she was very well-educated, she was in a good position in the society, she was not divorced and suddenly she killed her, I think it was one year and a three year old kids. And the problem is that we cannot get any information about this case, but we are suspecting that this has something to do with the social services and that they were terrorizing the mother.
And actually, after the Finnish mother murderer of the two of her children, the Finnish press wrote that the social service employees had visited the mother before the murder. But there was no any other information. But from this information we were able to conclude that, maybe, it had something to do with this, because the social services can terrorize people. But what happened after this, the police launched a criminal investigation against the social services for delivering the information that they visited the mother before. So, they are by all means trying to hide everything that is happening.
And it is crazy again!
Dr. Johan Backman: And we also have other cases where the social services came to the family, and the father of that family killed his children at the presence of the social workers, though they were in the corridor. So, this is the extreme I was talking about, but it is also part of this problem. There is a huge amount of human tragedy, suffering and we can also see criminal violence.
But we have to understand that the system of child protection has become a system of political terror. It is the system of political terror against the families, it is a system of political terror on the basis of anti-family ideology and it is a persecution of families. Unfortunately, in the dozens of cases in Finland we know of the Russian mothers and the Russian families have become the victims of this because of their family values which are of course different from the Western family values.