Ukraine’s parliament recently passed amendments to the Law ‘On Protecting Childhood.’ Under this law, local governmental and administrative bodies will now monitor the observance of ethical norms with respect to children at game clubs, computer clubs, discotheques, and other public places.
The Day asked Oleksandr KULYK, chief of the Main Department for Family and Youth Affairs at the Kyiv City Administration, to describe the problem and specify how the authorities plan to exercise supervision.
“There are a lot of problems today related to discotheques, cyber clubs, and game clubs that are patronized by minors. Naturally, a child needs a computer to be able to develop normally and learn things. But it’s one thing when it is a 15 or 17-year-old and quite a different thing when it is a younger child that doesn’t know his own mind yet, who is unable to control his actions and doesn’t have a fully formed personality. Children who have a computer at home use it, to some extent, under parental supervision. But a cyber club also attracts them because it offers new games, a possibility to compete with partners, and access to various sites not intended for children. Cyber games are very riveting: some children become oblivious of time and stay glued to the computer late into the night. Since they don’t earn a living yet, they don’t value every penny as much as adults do. There have been a lot of instances when a child commits a crime to obtain ‘computer money.’ First they take some household things to sell; then they stoop to downright theft.
“There are about 400 computer clubs in Kyiv today, but their owners don’t always check up on what minors do there or whether they have come at a time scheduled for youngsters. For example, last year the Juvenile Delinquency Service carried out 99 raids on 584 recreational places, including 431 cyber clubs, 120 game clubs, 25 Internet cafes, and 8 discotheques. They spotted 582 underage persons (382 during school hours and 200 at night, after 9 p.m.). Out of this number, there were 34 school dropouts and 18 homeless children. If the new law on childhood protection (especially the article concerning non-school institutions) is duly enforced and complemented with a number of bylaws and governmental resolutions, our children will be reliably protected against the negative influence of various recreational establishments.”
“Do you think the law should increase the power of local authorities to impose certain sanctions on club owners as well as parents who fail to carry out their parental duties adequately?”
“I don’t think we should start with sanctions. Parents should be aware of the impending danger to their children — even if their kids don’t go to computer clubs. Many families don’t provide adequate care for their children. Some are absorbed in their own affairs, others go on drinking binges. This is why schools must try every day to find out why pupils are absent, especially considering that 90% of Kyiv apartments have telephones. Some schools have placed this matter under the strict control of Parent-Teacher Associations, whose members make the rounds of nearby clubs and take children out of them. In their turn, club owners must know that, if they were cautioned once about admitting minors to the club during school hours or at night, as well as failing to keep tabs on the information children get through computers, the club is sure to be closed after another infraction.”
“What can be done to influence parents who don’t take proper care of their children?”
“No one can force parents to love their children, but they should be encouraged to do so. Parents should at least know that children are not only their own personal business. I’m not in favor of administrative sanctions, I prefer educating parents. But it is too late to do this when they already have children, who sometimes begin smoking at age eleven or even nine. This should be done when people have just started a family. This problem is being tackled by our structural unit, the Kyiv Municipal Family House Center. They are successfully teaching a program called the ‘ABCs of a Married Couple,’ which comprises seminars and classes for engaged couples. Interestingly, couples heading for the altar end up learning more about each other precisely in these classes than when they communicate outside the club. We also have the School for Conscientious Parenthood. Strange as it may seem, not all married couples can explain why they need a child and what they should do with it once it is born. Everything depends on the family. When a child is wanted, loved, and taken care of, s/he will not follow a criminal path or abuse alcohol or tobacco. Some alternatives to dangerous recreational establishments for children can be kids’ clubs at their place of residence, sports associations, and a network of recreational facilities for families, which are financially accessible to people of slender means. And it is the state that must promote this.”