In one of Yerevan’s central streets a scuffle between an elderly man and a young child had passersby concerned. After calling the police, they gathered around the pair trying to understand the baffling situation.
I was walking down the street with my colleague at the time. We cut our heated discussion short when we noticed the mass of people on the sidewalk. We thought someone wasn’t feeling well. A few moments later, my friend noticed the young child and how thinly he was dressed.
Being a journalist, I introduced myself and approached the older man and child.
Witnesses and policemen were trying to understand what had happened. Two women claimed that they saw the elderly man hitting and dragging the 5-6 year old child through the streets. They decided to intervene by reprimanding him and calling the police. I can only imagine what an awful scene it must have been to have prompted the women to call the police.
I asked the man if he was the child’s grandfather. With an indifferent tone, he assured me he was. When I asked why the child was dressed so lightly in this cold weather, he indignantly responded that it was quite the opposite. “They overdress the child so much he suffocates,” he said. When we inquired where the child’s parents were he told us that they weren’t here and he had decided to take the child to Republic Square to see the Christmas tree.
I approached the child and tried to interact with him. In half-Russian, half-Armenian he whispered in my ear that this man was bad, very bad, and he didn’t want to go with him. This unsettled me. Then I remembered that my three-year-old son had called me and his father very bad and that he didn’t love us after we forbade him from watching his favorite cartoon. At that age children are prone to fabricate, blame and become upset.
Incompetence and the Fate of our Children
According to Article 7 of the Family Code of the Republic of Armenia, “The protection of the rights of family members is realized by judicial procedure, and in cases and procedure established by the Code, in accordance with state bodies or the departments of custody and guardianship.”
Departments of custody and guardianship are state community bodies that work under administrative districts, municipalities and community councils. However, for the past several years experts have been stating that these are fictive bodies that effectively don’t work.
“Unfortunately, these decision-making bodies don’t provide services, none of them work with the victims,” Petrosyan says. “Custody committees are voluntary bodies. Without any in-depth research they are making decisions for a child. There are objective and subjective reasons for this.” She goes on to explain, “These bodies have been given a mandate, but no resources. This means they have no knowledge – any random person can become a committee member. Plus, they have no financial resources. Lack of finance means they can’t visit distant communities. These communities require extensive work that cannot be done with one or two visits.”
The lawyer for the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women, Stella Chandiryan, has noticed that the judicial system is also defective. She explains that there are investigators that work with children, however there are no available structures or judges or a separate subdivision within a prosecutor’s office or the court that specifically specializes in child abuse cases.
“There are legislative gaps that prevent identifying and solving these systemic issues,” Chandiryan notes. “Cases of abuse are mainly taking place within the family. However, we also see incidents when the abuse takes place between minors.” She says that most people believe that abuse is a one-time incident, however this is not the case. “Abuse is a crime and a public concern. The government has to take preventive steps against abuse and organize awareness campaigns,” she says. “The government has to say that if you hear your neighbor being beaten you should call the authorities, because a crime is taking place. You would most probably call the authorities if you heard gunshots. Cases of abuse should not be less important than other crimes.”
A Society that Doesn’t Interfere in the Affairs of Others
Three years ago, my family and I moved to one of the suburbs of Yerevan. The first person we met from our building was a boy whose name was well-known in the neighborhood. Often, his parents would call out to him from their window, other times noises would come from their apartment, or his friends would ask him to help “solve” an issue for them. More often than not, however, he would be reprimanded for his bad behavior, yet he would continue to curse and clash with others. Often, after midnight we would hear loud noises coming from the apartment where he lived, so loud that my child would jump out of bed in fear. Several times I considered calling the authorities, but then I would wonder if I should. I don’t know anyone from that family. I’ve only seen the child a few times in the courtyard. I didn’t give myself the right to meddle in the affairs of that family.
The reason is that from a young age we have been taught that you should not stick your nose in other people’s business. We all know quite well how many times fights break out in the neighbor’s house, in the building or in the courtyard. We all know how many women have wept and how many children have been struck. However, we keep ourselves away from these issues. Often we sit around a cup of coffee and discuss in detail the fights and problems other people have in their households. Maybe, instead of unnecessary gossip we should take a step and save a life.
Maybe while we’re discussing the latest scandal there is a life fading away…