The road to hell is paved by good intentions: New rules on children crossing the borders point at the weaknesses of the legal system as a whole

  • 2000-06-08
  • By Anna Pridanova
RIGA - On June 1, the hullabaloo around the underaged crossing Latvian borders seemed to cease with the border guard chief, Gunars Dabolins, signing a new less-complicated order on crossing Latvian borders.

According to Dabolins, the latest rules, made May 18, are in harmony with the second amendments in the Children Protection Law designed to prevent missing or kidnapped children.

The first amendments, made in the beginning of April, were too complicated to be followed.

Notwithstanding misunderstandings, both lawmakers and executors agree the major problem with the rules is getting the public to be aware of them.

Therefore, it was necessary to devise a less-complicated system, postponing application of first amendments until May 16, said Dabolins.

The next day after the new rules started, they proved to be completely ineffective, preventing people from leaving Latvia because of loops of red tape.

The new rules required all children crossing Latvian borders to have notarized permissions from both parents, or guardian, if parents are not present.

The only exception to this rule are those children whose parents are dead or deprived of parental rights by a court ruling, if documentation is submitted and approved at the border.

If matters are settled by both parents' consent, the paper routine consumes only a couple of days. The notary issues the parental permission the next day after the documents are submitted, for an average fee of 6 lats ($10).

The problems start

Parents divorced or living abroad were expected to comply and sign the permission papers for the distant parties in advance of the trip.

But if one of the parents is a citizen of another country and currently lives abroad, quite an urgent matter for those living in the border regions, or cannot be found or reached, the case goes through the custody court, consuming up to ten days. Thus a weekend trip to Estonia or Lithuania changes to a week-long affair.

"The problem about new travel rules is that the responsible ministries did not inform the public about them. This caused the hustle," said Aida Predele, the deputy chief of the Protection of Children's Rights subcommittee, lobbying for the amendments.

Dabolins admitted that lack of information caused major problems, being, according to him, the major reason for suspension of the rules. It is not the border guards' duty to explain to people what papers they need to cross the borders, but the lawmakers', he said. But this, virtually, was what the border guards did.

"I applied a new order, because we had 100 people a day on the borders unable to leave Latvia. I did it in accordance with my proxies stipulated in the Law on the Border Guard", said Dabolins.

Predele is concerned with Dabolins violating a hierarchy of legal regulations, not obeying the norms stipulated by the more precise law.

"It is just madness that one clerk finds it possible not to obey the law and to order people subjected to him to break it too," she said.

"If Dabolins grounded his actions with possible contradictions to the Latvian Constitution or other binding international regulations, he would not be breaking the law," Gita Ozolina, deputy director of the Latvian University Human Rights Institute, said.

But the Law on the Border Guard is not the basis for refusing to follow Parliament-approved amendments, she explained.

The positive nature of the lawmakers' intention is obvious. Predele told of all the reasons for tightening control on children's movement across borders for their own protection.

"Every year from 40 to 60 children are missing in Latvia, and there are a lot of cases when one of the parents kidnaps a child to bring him to another country. Considering this we had to accept tighter norms," she said.

The need for coordinated, public-oriented execution of good intentions turned out to be the major obstacle for successful implementation of new rules on children's border crossing.

The Cabinet of Ministers is to present new, final rules on children moving across state borders before July 1.