Children’s rights protection and NGOs of Belarus

INGO "Ponimanie"/ "Razumenne"/ "Understanding"/Chairman of the Board and Executive Director/Belarus / Andrey Makhanko, MA, ICEPCR

 A number of NGOs of Belarus are focused on children’s rights protection. Among them: Public Organization “Belarusian Republican Union of Youth”, Public Organization “Belarusian Republican Pioneer Organization”, Public Organization “Belarusian Union of Women”, Public Organization “Belarusian Children’s Fund” which are under control and financial support of the state; here also belong a number of democratically ruled NGOs such as Republican NGO “SOS-Kinderdorf”, Republican NGO “Belarusian association of UNESCO clubs”, INGO “Ponimanie”, Republican NGO “Belarusian guide association”, NGO “Children are not for abuse”, NGO “Educational center “Post””, Youth NGO “Healthy choice”, NGO “Rosstan”, NGO “ASDEMO”, NGO “VIT” and others. Some of them are united into information networks such as Belarusian Network “For and together with children”, “Association of civil education”, Assembly of NGOs. Other organizations are dissociated on principle, due to fear of additional pressure form the government.

 Initiatives on partnership between state and NGOs today come mostly from NGOs. However, in the framework of developing partnership between Belarus and European Union and other partners, in the framework of enlarging global financial crisis, it is very likely that the state will be more active in its intention to build cooperation with all interested parties of children’s rights promotion and protection.

 There are a number of programs conducted in partnership between state and other executive agencies. In particular, the following programs can be named:

 1) program of training multidisciplinary teams of professionals in prevention of  child abuse and recovery of abused children, implemented by INGO “Ponimanie” in partnership with the Academy of Postgraduate Study and a number of resource socio-pedagogical agencies;  
2) programs of promotion of alternative care for child orphans, transit dwelling of graduates, support to local communities and children in need of special care, implemented by SOS-Kinderdorf International in partnership with the Government of Belarus; 
3) program of training of professionals involved into selection and supervision of substitution families, implemented by Christian Children’s Fund Office in Belarus together with the Ministry of Education; 
4) program of national adoption promotion and building up life skills for children in residential care, implemented by Republican NGO “Parent’s home” and Youth NGO “Healthy choice” in partnership with National Center for Adoption at Ministry of Education;  
5) program of preserving family care and promotion of substitution family care for disabled children, implemented by Belarusian NGO “Belarusian association of help to disabled children and disabled young people” in partnership with Ministry of Education, a number of state agencies and NGOs; 
6) program of substitution families backup training (host/adaptation families), launched by Republican NGO “Belarusian Children’s Fund” with technologies, elaborated by INGO “Ponimanie”;  
7) program of socialization of disabled young people through providing productive employment, implemented by Belarusian NGO “Belarusian association of help to disabled children and disabled young people” in partnership with Ministry of Labour and Social Care, a number of state agencies and NGOs;  
8) program of traffic prevention, including traffic of under-age children , launched by International Organization for Migration Office in partnership with Ministry of Internal Affairs and a range of NGOs;  
9) program of launching of juvenile justice system, conducted by Ministry of Justice in partnership with NGO “League of youth voluntary labor” with support from UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF);  
10) a number of regional and local programs and initiatives, implemented by such organizations as NGO “Children are not for abuse”, NGO “Post”, NGO “Focus-group”, INGO “Real world” and other in partnership with local and regional State management Agencies and state institutions.

 As in any other sphere, the relations between state and third sector have a number of problems and obstacles caused by various factors. Firstly, this is the instrument of registration and elimination of an NGO, the instrument used by the state actively and expertly. However weird it may seem, but legislative status of an NGO is the most vulnerable area and it is the source of threat for organization’s existence. It happens so that if the Belarusian government (extremely democratic deeply in its heart) is not satisfied with an organization and discovered sedition within its activities, then the state officials are easy to find absolutely legal reason for denial in registration or re-registration of the organization. That is why there are a number of unregistered public organizations in the country which de facto act eagerly, but de jure do not exist.

 Secondly, the financial aspect is a burning issue. The sources of finance can vary, but all NGOs are united by the necessity to be in search of new ones. One exception here is pro-governmental organizations, they receive support directly and plentifully from the state treasury. In response they attempt to cover the whole “third sector”, and by doing this to exclude from this area all unfavorable and just independent contestants without considering other NGOs as partners. The state works actively in this direction by creating new state-public and pro-governmental public organizations, and by strengthening hands of existing ones. For authentic NGOs financial aspect is a matter of life and death. While protest NGOs have western partners to their credit and find means in various funds outside the country, social NGOs can hardly do this. Social changes are not in focus of many donors. In most cases funding from abroad for social NGOs is coming through credible and sustainable partners in the EU and the USA, whose authority overwhelms dubious references from “authorized experts” of protest NGOs. It is almost impossible for social NGOs in Belarus to receive direct large finance from foreign funds, except for the cases characterized by direct affiliation between the fund and the local official.

 Obliging to scarce financial support, internal contestation among authentic NGOs takes place. Very often the organizations fight against each other for extremely meager and limited sources of finance, instead of concentrating their forces and efforts on enhancement and improvement of service for the target group. In this pursuit of financial support, plots against the third sector peers are weaved. That is why Belarus is in acute need for elaboration of common ethical norms for activity within the third sector.

 In 1999 NGO “United way” made first attempt to introduce ethical norms in the third sector of Belarus. A Code consisting of 10 easy rules was complied and approved of by a dozen of NGOs. In 2006 a second attempt to introduce ethical norms was made by a group of NGO leaders, unofficially called “7 Samurais”, which consisted of seven known leaders of big and influential NGOs: Belarusian association of social workers, NGO “Ponimanie”, Belarusian association of young Christian women, NGO “Children are not for abuse”, NGO “ACT”, Belarusian association of wheel-chaired people, Belarusian association of help to disabled children and disabled young people. This attempt did not exercise much influence on other NGOs because the work of leaders’ group was adjourned due to active resistance from some donor organizations working in Belarus. However, basing on “7 Samurais” ideas, NGO “Ponimanie” elaborated ethical principles for the organization, and they have been included into General Strategy of Development of NGO “Ponimanie” for 2008 – 2020. This is a first fundamental document in the country which provides for long-term development of the NGO.