Point of View

Human Rights in Armenia in 2012: Women, Children, and Persons with Disabilities


Photo by Coalition battling violence against women

The issue is not the law but the practice

In the field of women's rights the biggest achievement of 2012 was the focus of public attention on women's issues and rights, believes Lousine Minasyan, a lawyer with the Women's Resource Center NGO.

The lawyer states that the trial on the case of Mariam Gevorgyan, a victim of domestic violence, was of crucial significance: “The case of Mariam and before it of Zarouhi Petrosyan are precedents, which will determine the state policy in the future, that is that women need protection, should be taken under state care and the perpetrators should not escape punishment.”

Ms Minasyan says that women, especially in rural regions, perceive violence against them as something normal, but as a result of public discussion of high profile cases, they start to realize that it is not normal and that they need to reconsider their value system.

According to the lawyer, the lack of official statistics does not allow to see the numbers on women suffering from domestic violence annually, and to understand the trends: “More cases of violence are registered, but it does not mean that violence has increased, it simply shows that women start raising this issue, which previously was not common.”

Ms Minasyan refers to a draft law “On domestic violence”, presented to the government, as one of the biggest achievements of the year. She believes that the Family and Criminal Codes do not solve the issue of domestic violence and many questions are left open.

Let us remind that the draft law was prepared by the Women's Rights Center NGO in 2007 and in 2009 it was presented to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

 “There is a pressing need for this law and it is good that the government acknowledges that. The law creates protection mechanisms not only for a woman, but for all family members experiencing domestic violence, and imposes duties and responsibilities on various official bodies. When the law is adopted then the perpetrators will also understand the consequences of their actions,” the lawyer believes.

The other important legislative initiative proposed by the Women's Resource Center is amendments to the Criminal Code on increasing punishment for crimes against sexual integrity. The NGO proposed to eliminate fine as minimal punishment, which is applied now. The draft passed two readings at the National Assembly, and Minasyan hopes that in spring 2013 it will be adopted.

Nevertheless, the lawyer dealing with women's rights protection understands that legislative changes alone are not sufficient. “In many cases, the issue lies in the implementation of the law. We will not have an ideal reality even if we have an ideal legislation. We need reforms in the judicial system and state policy,” she says.

Ms Minasyan believes that there is a need for professional training of judges, lawyers and police, working in this field.

“The police do not have skills to treat victims properly. When women report their issue to the police, they are not provided with adequate support. As a result, women would not go to the police for the second time,” says Lousine Minasyan and adds that the Women Resource Center has already planned to organize a training-awareness program for the police in 2013.

The state’s  attitude towards children's rights has changed

Mira Antonyan, Executive director of the Armenian Relief Fund's “Children's Support Center” says that the year's achievement in the field of children's rights was that more people became concerned with children's rights and the state policy on the issue changed.

“Several years ago our proposals were given a hostile reception, but now they (relevant authorities) seek solutions. Before they were saying that existence of councils of trustees and guardians is sufficient, now they understand that there is a demand for social workers and ask “where we can find them?” This is already a progress,” says Mira Antonyan.

According to her, there are no social workers at orphanages, childcare homes, special schools and courts, whereas the children are mostly in need of social workers.

The three-tier system on child protection will become effective if the lower tier is given not to the council of guardians but to social workers. However, it can be implemented only when an integrated social service system is introduced, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has been working on this.

In June last year, a draft Strategy on Protection of Children's Rights in Armenia for 2012-2016 was presented for public discussion. Mira Antonyan looks positively at the fact that the state strategic programs on child protection are discussed publicly, that the state takes into consideration the opinion of NGOs and perceives them as a good resource.

According to UNICEF research, there are lots of things to be done, especially for protection of rights of children with disabilities and their integration.

The research “Access for children with disabilities to education, health and social protection services in Armenia”, conducted among 6000 children, demonstrated that about 81 per cent of children with disabilities do not receive any social protection service but 18200 AMD as a disability pension. 18 per cent do not attend school, and 16 per cent live and get education in children's homes or special schools.

In childcare institutions out of every 20 disabled children only one attends school, five attend special schools, and 14 – are left without general basic education.

According to data of the “Social image and poverty of Armenia in 2012” report, 65% of children with disabilities live in poverty, on 1200 AMD daily, and 8% - in extreme poverty, on less than 800 AMD daily.

Jemma Baghdasaryan, Deputy Minister of RA Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs accepts, that the state has many things to do on the issue of protection of rights of children with disabilities: “We have serious problems with accessibility and with creation of community services.” Although some steps have been made towards greater accessibility but, in the opinion of the deputy minister, they are not sufficient. “Another issue is that the number of children at childcare homes, boarding schools and special schools is too high, and it needs to be decreased, and for that reason alternative community services have to be created,” believes the deputy minister.

People talk more than ensure the rights of persons with disabilities

In 2012, no serious changes were made, which would impact positively on the lives of about 180 000 people with disabilities living in Armenia, believes Zara Batoyan, who is responsible for protection of the rights of persons with disabilities at the “Hope of Bridge” NGO.

“People still live isolated, the society does not see them in public places, which means that not much has changed,” she says.

On the other hand, the legislative reforms are ongoing, and people with disabilities will feel its impact later. A draft law “On protection of rights and integration of people with disabilities in RA” currently is discussed in the government.

Batoyan says that now people talk more about the accessibility issue and equal opportunities, so they understand its importance. Nevertheless, changes are implemented too slow.

The problem of inaccessibility of buildings remains unresolved. Even new buildings in most cases do not correspond to standards: “Often you cannot call them ramps: even the builders would have difficulty to climb it. Thus, it has only a formal character,” says Batoyan, adding that it is caused by the fact that there is no control over this field and no one takes responsibility for work poorly done.

In 2012 the renovation works of Hrazdan stadium started. The Armenian Football Federation accepted the proposal of the Association of NGOs on protection of rights of persons with disabilities to make the stadium accessible to people with disabilities. Everyone waits for the results.

Although the mayor's office promised to solve the problem of accessibility of public transport in Yerevan a year ago, the public transport remains inaccessible for people having problems with musculoskeletal system.

Ms Batoyan stressed that that a positive change is that the Ministry of Extraordinary Situations has declared about its intention to provide jobs to 20-30 people with disabilities. The vacant jobs have not been filled yet because few correspond to the required qualifications. However, in Ms Batoyan's opinion, this is “a precedent”.

The year 2012 was an election year. In the opinion of Souren Ohanyan, president of “Paros” NGO, although some progress on ensuring electoral rights of disabled people was made, however, it is not sufficient.

According to Paros' data, only 20% of precinct stations this year were accessible to people with disabilities. 100 precinct stations became accessible as a result of joint efforts of Paros NGO and Central Electoral Commission.

“Lonely persons with disability, old persons are still denied the opportunity to vote. The party lists had a special frame which helped blind people to vote, but the majoritarian lists did not have it,” says Souren Ohanyan.

In his opinion, the reason for the slow progress of the reforms is that the government does not prioritize this issue: “It is not that the state is not able, but, I believe, it is not willing to provide means to make the electoral process accessible. And as a result we have the situation as it is“.

Zara Batoyan of the Bridge of Hope NGO emphasizes that the state authorities do not reject their proposals anymore. “However, they say that they need time and funding... But there are many efficient ways to spend the money. The issue is not the funds, but the lack of understanding of the issue, they are not bearers of the problem, whereas people with disabilities do not participate in development of programs. This is the real reason”, says Ms Batoyan and adds that things should not be done for disabled people, but they should be done with them.

In 2012 the Association of NGOs on protection of the rights of persons with disabilities was officially registered, it has worked since 2006 and comprises 14 NGOs. The aim of the association is to ensure full provision of the rights of persons with disabilities.

Haykuhi Barseghyan 

Source www.hra.am