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Latvia: Smoking Parents Will Be Prosecuted

(June 5, 2013) On May 30, 2013, the Saeima (Latvia’s legislature) adopted revisions to the Protection of the Rights of the Child Law that, as stated in the Parliament’s press release, will protect a child’s right to grow up in a smoke-free environment. (Press Release, Parliamentary Press Service, Saeima Deems Smoking in the Presence of a Child as Abuse (May 30, 2013).)

The amendment to the Law, which needs to be signed by the President of Latvia in order to become law and enter into force, extends the definition of physical abuse, adding the “intentional subjection of a child to a harmful environment, including tobacco smoke,” as a form of child abuse. (Id.) Under the revised Law, all minors under 18 years of age are recognized as children. Smoking in the presence of a dependent child will be considered a felony, while smoking in the presence of an unrelated minor who is unknown to the smoker will be considered an administrative violation, which is a misdemeanor. (Elena Belova & Elena Muhametshina, Rodil, Pokuril, v Tiurmu [Give Birth and Smoke, Then Go to Prison] [in Russian], GAZETA.RU (May 30, 2013).)

There was no report of what type of punishment will be provided for the above types of actions; Latvian legal observers suggest that prosecution of such offenses may be in line with article 173 of the Latvian Criminal Code, which provides for up to three years of imprisonment or a fine in the amount of 60 times the minimum monthly wage for involvement of minors in non-medical use of intoxicating substances. The Latvian Ministry of Justice, however, stated its opinion that the punishment proposed by those observers is not proportionate to the new crime. (Id.)

This legislation was initiated by the Latvian Medical Society, and the parliamentary Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee was responsible for its drafting. The Committee’s Chairwoman, Inara Murniece, stated that the new law will “promote awareness about the harm caused by smoking and will make people act more responsibly regarding children’s health.” (Saeima Deems Smoking in the Presence of a Child as Abuse, supra.) She emphasized that if the amendment enters into force, children will not be “automatically removed from families where one or both parents are smokers.” (Id.) However, in another interview, she said that “a smoking habit of parents or guardians will be an additional factor to consider when taking children away from their relatives who are involved in immoral or antisocial behavior.” (Belova & Muhametshina, supra.)

Among other issues covered by the Law are the recognition of abuse of a child’s relative in the child’s presence as a form of emotional child abuse; the introduction of a requirement for parents or caregivers not to leave a child under seven years of age alone; the creation of a list of persons who must have specific knowledge about children’s rights; and the grant to the heads of institutions of social rehabilitation for children of the right to search a child and check a child’s correspondence, in order to protect that child from threats expressed by an abuser. (Saeima Deems Smoking in the Presence of a Child as Abuse, supra.)