By Paul Goble
Even as the Duma considers legislation that would eliminate legal penalties for those who use violence within the family, Russian sociologists report that “more than 60 percent” of all Russians have been and continue to be beaten as children, a pattern that helps explain why Russians have the attitudes they do to the use of force more generally.
In a discussion of this issue, Pavel Pryannikov’s blog, Tolkovatel,” today observes that the push for decriminalization of such violence not only represents “the latest victory of the conservative and traditionalist lobby” but is “a rare case which completely reflects the attitudes of the majority of parents” (ttolk.ru/2016/12/01/россияне-бьют-и-будут-бить-детей-матер/).
In this as in so many other areas, Russia is moving in a very different direction than the rest of the world given that the Council of Europe and the UN have called for a complete ban on physical punishment of children. And official documents confirm this: some two million children under 14 are now beaten each year, and more than 50,000 of them flee their homes as a result.
Russian boys are beaten three times as often as Russian girls, and two-thirds of those beaten are preschoolers, according the Duma Committee on Women. Still worse, “ten percent of those beaten most bestially and hospitalized now die.” Human rights groups say that about 60 percent of children are beaten but that official statistics reflect only five to 10 percent of that.
This pattern has its roots in pre-revolutionary Russia when children were considered the property of their parents to do with as they liked and with the government standing aside regardless of what they did, a tradition which, Tolkovatel notes with regret, “has survived until our times.”
To describe this phenomenon in more detail, the portal draws on the 2011 article by the late Russian sociologist Igor Kon on “Bodily Punishment of Children in Russia: Past and Present.” (Its full text is available at socionauki.ru/journal/articles/134124/). The statistics that follow come from Kon’s essay.
According to the Public Opinion Foundation, 40 percent of Russians are prepared to say that they experienced physical punishment as children, with the numbers slightly higher among older groups and those from military and security service families and lower among younger and better educated ones.
But far more Russians acknowledge that the abuse of children in their country is widespread: Only two percent were prepared to tell the foundation that there are no parents in Russia today who use physical force against their children.
According to research conducted by the Foundation for the Support of Children, 51.8 percent of Russian parents said they used force against their children “’for educational purposes.’” Mothers used it more often than fathers – as the former are often more responsible for the family than the latter – but fathers used more serious force against their children.
Several Russian polls found that parents in the military and the militia were more likely to use force than other groups and that the share of Russians who consider it appropriate to use such force has gone up significantly, from 16 percent in 1992 to 54 percent in 2004. And they have found that those who experienced physical punishment in their childhoods are more likely to use it against their own children than those who did not.
Tolkovatel concludes: “One of the main causes for the widespread use of bodily punishment in Russia is that people have gotten used to force, the victims of which are not only adults but also children,” a vicious circle from which it will be difficult for that society to escape, especially if the powers that be do nothing to encourage people to stop.