President Dmitry Medvedev has called on Russian lawmakers to consider "chemical castration" for child molesters – a response to what some officials call an unprecedented wave of sexual crimes against minors.
Mr. Medvedev's comments mark the first time the Kremlin has weighed in on the demands by several Duma members and family law experts for tougher penalties for convicted pedophiles.
"Punishments should be as harsh as possible," Medvedev told a government meeting Tuesday. "The state should use all means possible, and a liberal approach here is totally unacceptable. I suggest discussion of measures including medical procedures for such individuals, including injections that would block the action of their hormones."
The issue has been simmering below the surface of Russian politics for several years, with a number of politicians and advocacy groups claiming that liberal laws and lenient courts enable too many offenders to escape punishment or to return to the same criminal behavior after serving brief prison sentences.
"Over the past few days there have been several crimes like this around Russia, including the violent death of child victims," Pavel Astakhov, the Kremlin's ombudsman for children's rights, told the Monitor by phone. Mr. Astakhov says he has been urging Medvedev to take a public stand in order to draw attention to the seriousness of the issue.
In the existing system "there is no way to maintain supervision over people who commit such crimes, no means of prevention, and current penalties are not sufficiently severe to deter them from doing it," he says. "In Russian courts, over the past 3 years, 70 percent of these cases ended in reconciliation of the sides," meaning charges are dropped after a court-sponsored process of dialogue between the parties – a measure that is apparently common in nonviolent cases.
"I presented a report to the President suggesting chemical castration for offenders who have served their prison sentences and are eligible for parole, as an alternative to serving out the full sentence," says Astakhov. "But we also need tougher punishments, including prison sentences of 20 years to life."
Astakhov claims that cases of sexual child abuse have grown 32 times since 2003, and more than doubled throughout the past two years. In 2010, he says, there were 9,500 pedophile crimes registered in Russia.
Vladimir Dobrenkov, dean of sociology at Moscow State University, says those extraordinary statistical trends possibly reflect a tendency to hush or not actively prosecute such crimes in the past, while now there is greater social pressure on the authorities to bring them to light and take legal action.
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"This problem has begun to attract attention from all layers of society. There is a widespread perception that child molestation is taking on a massive character," says Mr. Dobrenkov. "People feel vulnerable, doubt the ability of the state to protect their children, and are demanding the authorities do something about it."
Nina Ostanina, deputy head of the State Duma's commission on family affairs, says Medvedev's intervention in the issue is a good beginning, but more is needed.
"If we start to implement some tougher measures now, it will help to improve the image of the authorities in the eyes of the public," she says. "But as a result of liberal legislation, Russia has become a haven for pedophiles. We need to change that; since Russia has a moratorium on the death penalty, then there should be mandatory life imprisonment for such crimes. Our society will only welcome such measures."