Bucharest children’s protest defies official pressure

Bucharest children’s protest defies official pressure
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest February 19, 2017

Around 500 parents and children gathered in front of the Romanian government headquarters in Bucharest's Victory Square on February 18. Parents ignored warnings from Labour Minister Lia Olguta Vasilescu that they are breaking the law by taking their children to demonstrations to attend the event billed as "the most peaceful and colourful" protest in Bucharest. 

The event was part of a broader series of daily protests in the Romanian capital since January 31, when the government adopted an emergency decree partly decriminalising abuse of office. Although the decree has since been repealed and the justice minister has resigned, anti-government protests have continued across the country, despite falling numbers of participants.

This was the second “children's protest" organised in Bucharest, after a similar one took place two weeks ago. Thousands of parents and children came to Victory Square for the first protest, to show their peaceful intentions after violent incidents occurred at an evening protest on February 1.

Enjoying a sunny and warm day, carrying bikes and colouring chalk, parents and children came to Victory Square to the February 18 event, which had been advertised as "Education for democracy - The civic education lesson". 

The square was soon covered in children's chalk drawings, messages and lists of good and bad things. Children rode their bikes and played hopscotch which contained messages such as "I do not steal” and “I do not lie” - two of the accusations levelled by protesters against the government. Children arranged pots of flowers on the message "Democracy resists", which had been written in chalk on the asphalt.

"I have brought my daughters here because I want them to see and understand something we were not offered the chance to understand, that you have to take action when your rights are not respected. This is something new for Romania, we used to wait for others to do something for us," a man who had come to Victory Square with his three and five year old daughters told bne IntelliNews.

The protest, organised on Facebook, followed discussions over the legality of bringing a child to protests in Romania. Vasilescu has warned that parents are breaking the law when they bring their children to protests, while the child protection authority said it has received several notifications on the issue.

The event took place a few days after Vasilescu explicitly stated children are not allowed by law to attend protests. "Those who took the streets did it because they do not want the law to be broken. Law 272/2004 envisages clearly that parents are not allowed to take children to demonstrations, to expose them. So, if they went out on the streets because they wanted the law to be respected, they should know there is a bill which forbids them to take their children there," Vasilescu said, according to digi24.ro

In addition, the National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption, which is subordinated to the labour ministry, said on February 15 that it had received 29 notifications regarding the involvement of children in the protests. The authority said that no child should be exposed to the risks adults assume.

However, protesters did not seem to be intimidated by the minister's statements, dismissing them as attempts at intimidation by the authorities.

"It is just a continuation of the abuses they started right after they took power. I am not intimidated by this," a protester told bne IntelliNews.

The labour minister has been contradicted by the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection in the central town of Sibiu, which claimed that according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child any child has the right to freedom of thought, religion and to attend peaceful assemblies which do not break others' rights.