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Sunday Times (UK)
May 18, 2003
Children face curfew in crime-hit Moscow
Mark Franchetti, Moscow

AS a keen footballer, 13-year-old Maxim Logunov used to take advantage of Russias long, bright summer evenings to train with his team. Twice a week he played until 10pm and still made it home before dark. If Moscow legislators have their way, however, Maxims training will end with him being detained by the police and his parents fined.

The Moscow city duma, or parliament, has voted to establish a curfew for under-14s. The measure, which will become law this summer if approved in a second round of voting, will banish children from the streets between 10pm and 6am unless they are accompanied by their parents or a relative over 18.

Unaccompanied youngsters will be taken into custody, questioned and released only after their parents have paid a fine.

The action is intended to curb juvenile crime, but its critics say it is further evidence that Russia has become more authoritarian since Vladimir Putin was elected president three years ago. The curfew is expected to be taken up by other cities if Moscow adopts it.

I dont see why, if my parents let me out after 10pm, a bunch of politicians should tell me I cant go out, said Logunov. Ill have to worry about some policeman harassing me and locking me up for a few hours. I am too young to remember what life was like in the Soviet Union, but I thought we were supposed to have more freedom, not less.

The initiative also reflects desperate social and economic problems. There are 3m street children in Russia, more than after the second world war. Drug addiction, prostitution and alcoholism are increasing among teenagers and last year they committed more than 300,000 crimes. Experts say the break-up of the family is partly to blame.

Struggling to make ends meet, parents are often not at home to care for their children. Alcoholism and domestic violence among adults have also driven many young Russians on to the streets and into the world of petty crime. Last year 14,000 women and more than 2,000 children were killed in attacks in their homes.

Russians were shocked by the recent gruesome murder of a builder from Azerbaijan who was beaten to death by seven teenage girls. The youngest was 14, the oldest 18. They lured the 54-year-old man into woods on the outskirts of Moscow then beat him and finally sank a stiletto heel into his face.

Something must be done to stop juvenile crime and protect our youth from criminals, said Yevgeni Balashev, the Moscow duma deputy who proposed the curfew. I wanted the bill to set the age limit at 18, not 14 but sadly over-14-year-olds have constitutional rights in Russia. Teenagers have no business wandering around the streets at night. To say we are taking away their rights is wrong. We are protecting them.

Critics point out that since he was elected in March 2000, Putin has removed many of the liberties which Russians had taken for granted under Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor.

Trials behind closed doors have become commonplace and the Federal Security Service (FSB), which succeeded the KGB, has regained much of its Soviet-era impunity. Under Yeltsin thousands of prisoners were pardoned every year; now the figure is a few dozen.

This curfew is yet another sign that under Putin the country is becoming more Soviet and more authoritarian, said Valeria Novodvorskaya, a liberal state duma deputy. It shows that Russian politicians dont think of teenagers as kids but as homeless dogs. They might as well lock them all up in a camp behind barbed wire.

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