Children’s summer recreation: source of corruption
The recent tragedy in Karelia, when 14 teenagers died in the Syamozero Lake, showed to the public that the children’s summer recreation industry requires thorough scrutiny. At the same time, officials in the control bodies, who were issuing various permits to summer camps for bribes, did not even think of consequences of their actions.
Numerous checks initiated after the tragedy by the Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters (EMERCOM), Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), Prosecutor’s Office, etc., have revealed numerous violations in summer camps. The question is: who permitted these camps to operate and host children? Apparently, corrupt officials ignore issues related to the safety of young Russians if it’s good for their pocket.
Tons of violations
Indeed, there are lots of violations in operations of children’s recreation institutions. The most frequent are: non-compliance with fire safety and sanitary-epidemiological requirements. Camp personnel often do not have required qualifications, while swimming areas are not equipped with safety appliances.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, citizens of Ukraine and Moldavia, who don’t have permissions to work with children, are employed in Severnaya Zorka Plus (Northern Dawn Plus) camp located in Komarovo township in the Kurortny District of St. Petersburg, while its catering facility does not comply with the regulations. In addition, parents live in the camp together with their children, which is a gross violation of requirements set for the recreation of minors.
Prosecutor’s Office has also found that a children’s camp in Reshetnikovo township in the same Kurortny District was operating illegally. This private institution used to provide summer and winter children’s recreation services with blatant violations of sanitary-epidemiological and fire safety requirements.
The situation in the Moscow region is not better. For example, in the Naro-Fominsky District, Recruit Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization has opened a camp on the territory of Protva Recreation Center without getting approval from respective governmental bodies. This children’s camp was violating sanitary-epidemiological and fire safety regulations. The camp was not properly fenced and secured. Outsiders and children could freely move everywhere, including the closest water body. Staff working with children did not have required professional skills.
Fire safety requirements were violated in Zeleny Bereg (Green Waterfront) Education Center located in Chivirevo village of the Mitishi District and in Guslitsa Mansion located in Ilyinsky Pogost township of the Orekhovo-Zuevo District.
The same picture can be observed throughout the country: children’s recreation facilities operate with gross violations of legal regulations. For instance, the Prosecutor’s Office has terminated operations of Chaika (Gull) Camp located in the Novopokrovsky District of Krasnodarsky krai. The audit found a frustrating situation there: deteriorated furniture, damaged floors and ceilings in children’s bedrooms, unfinished renovations in economic facilities, construction debris under children’s feet, inadequate medical service, no fire alarm or extinguishers.
Recently, there was a mass poisoning in Sosnovy Bor (Pine Forest) Camp located in the Chita Dirstrict of Zabaikalsky krai. In the end of June 2016, 11 children with acute enteric infection have been admitted to the regional hospital. Nine of them are still hospitalized. Currently the camp, which is subordinate to the regional ministry for social security, is closed. Law enforcement authorities are investigating the incident.
10 thousand rubles for each paper
Superintendent of an Astrakhan departmental camp agreed to talk with the CrimeRussia correspondent on the condition of anonymity.
“We host four shifts, 200 children each, during the summer period. Children aged 10–16, whose parents are employed in our industry, arrive from all parts of Russia. The camp has been operating since the 1970s. Children swim in the Volga River, enjoy the southern sun, eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Basically, everybody is happy with the recreation,” – my source says.
The departmental camp superintendent admits certain flaws: some accommodation facilities require renovations, obsolete machinery and equipment should be replaced, playgrounds need to be updated. Last year, a group of children from Siberia had contracted an enteric infection, but the incident was hushed up. The camp managed to avoid a media scandal and excessive attention from law enforcement authorities.
“Siberian children have low immune resistance. They are not adopted to local bacteria, that is the reason. Apparently, they bought fruits on the market in the nearby Kamizyak township and ate those unwashed,” – the superintendent shares his thoughts.
“How did you manage to hush up the incident?” – I ask.
He smiles: “Don’t you really understand? We just made arrangements with the doctors to keep it quiet. Of course, we had to pay ‘remuneration’. But the medical personnel also don’t want audits and checks – that’s why the controlling bodies never heard of it. The children received a course of antibiotics and quickly recovered,” – the superintendent explains.
Spring is a busy season for the superintendent. The camp prepares for the opening. And officials from control bodies receive bribes. Officers of EMERCOM, Rospotrebnadzor, regional education and health ministries, labor protection department, building inspection, etc. visit the children’s institution and discover violations and shortcomings.
“I agree with them and promise to fix everything by the beginning of the first shift. Then I give the documents that must be signed together with an envelope with a certain amount of money. If the official refuses to sign, it means that the amount is insufficient. I add more money, and the issue is resolved,” – the superintendent tells honestly.
According to my source, the amount of bribes increases every year. Rospotrebnadzor and fire safety officers are the ‘most expensive’. For instance, last spring these inspectors were receiving 10 thousand rubles for each visit and each signed paper.
“Why don’t you just fix the violations and stop paying them?” – I ask.
“Based on my experience, officials will always find a flaw. It’s cheaper to pay them rather than satisfy all their requirements. To be honest, some regulations are unreasonable and very difficult to comply with. For example, why do we need fire extinguishers in every room?” – my source explains.
Why train children to be ‘Robinsons’?
When parents send their child to a summer camp, they expect that his health strengthens there, that he meets new friends and gets interesting experiences. So-called eco-tourism becomes more and more popular nowadays: children live in tents, cook on the campfire, etc. How safe is such recreation? Shouldn’t it be banned?
Leonid Somov, a father of two teenagers, believes that it is not a big deal if the children live without comforts of the civilization for a week or two: “My sons Misha and Stepka have visited a tent camp located on an island in the middle of the Volga River twice. There is even no electricity there. But tons of romance. Campfires, starry skies, baked potato, smell of canned stewed meat – the Internet will never substitute such experiences. This is how the real childhood should look like. I am confident in the professional competence of instructors, and my guys like this life. Everybody needs to get away from it all – at least, for two weeks in a year,” – the man says.
Many parents totally disagree with this opinion, including Elizaveta Romanovskaya: “I believe that it is irresponsible to send children to live in tents and feed mosquitoes. You can’t predict all hazards awaiting kids in the wilderness. What if a poisonous spider bites them? Or a snake creeps inside? Injuries, bruises, scratches, microbes, and parasites that infest waters. Not to mention eating canned foods,” – she lists the risks faced by young ‘Robinsons’.
Of course, eco-tourism is the cheapest recreation type for its providers. You just hire instructors and purchase tents. All other components (sun, air, and water) are provided by mother nature. If the children take food from home, Rospotrebnadzor should have no more objections.
Such camps – both legal and not – are being opened everywhere in the recent years. It is no surprise that they often win summer recreation tenders for children from needy and troubled families – because their prices are the lowest. The officials are happy because they save budget funds. And the businessmen are happy because they get state budget funding without major investments. But the children my be harmed. Although nobody cared of this before the tragedy on the Syamozero lake on June 18, 2016.
Parents and their children often have reasonable complaints against ‘traditional’ summer camps as well. Mostly they complain on crummy buildings, obsolete equipment, low quality of food, inappropriate attitude of camp counselors and other staff, missing basic amenities, and forbearance of security guards. In addition, swimming children are often not supervised at all, and there are no permanents medical offices in many camps.
What parents should pay attention to?
In our country children’s summer recreation services to not require licensing yet. However, if a camp provides medical and health services, it must be licensed for medical activities. Similarly, delivery of training programs requires educational licensing.
Before the summer season, all children’s recreational institutions must pass a mandatory approval procedure. Specialists of an inter-departmental commission, that includes representatives of all controlling bodies, sign a special act. Without this document, the camp can not open and host children.
In addition, all such institutions in our country must receive in the regional branch of Rospotrebnadzor a certificate of compliance to all sanitary-epidemiological regulations and an inspection act from the State Fire Control Service. All camp counselors and other personnel must possess required skills, have medical history sheets, and receive safety training. There are special requirements to camp medical records and quality certificates for products purchased for children.
All acts and certificates, along with any other relevant information, must be provided to parents willing to purchase a camp voucher on request. Transparency of an institution presumes that the summer recreation won’t be ruined by issues – although the documents themselves do now warrant anything. Therefore, the parents must clarify several important aspects:
It would be also helpful to look for comments about the camp on the Internet – although most positive and negative opinions must be disregarded: they could be posted either by the camp management of business competitors.
Licensing will be introduced
The tragedy on the Syamozero Lake brought the governmental attention to the children’s summer recreation. The need to introduce mandatory licensing of this activity and accreditation for camps was discussed on a recent session in the Kremlin.
Olga Golodets, the Vice Premier Minister, believes that organized recreation provides at least some safety warranties for children. Especially taking that 1,674 young Russians, who were spending summer holidays on their own died, in 2015. This year the summer recreation campaign will involve some 8.5 million children; more than 50 thousand institutions will host them.
A large-scale audit launched by control bodies after the Syamozero Lake tragedy affected, first of all, private and tent camps, whose recreation programs involve potential hazards to life. Almost 20 thousand such institutions have been identified; last year they had provided tourist trips to 800 thousand young Russians.
The government understands that eco-tourism for children can’t be banned completely; therefore, it intends to strengthen safety control in all camps, including mandatory notification of EMERCOM of all scheduled activities. The idea to establish a universal state service to supervise children’s summer recreation is being discussed. Currently various agencies (ministries of education and health, EMERCOM, Rospotrebnadzor) act only within the limits of their authority, which sometimes is not effective.
Federal Acquisition Regulations for camp vouchers for children from needy and troubled families will be also revised to ensure that the cost is not the main factor determining the tender winner. It is not recommended anymore to the officials to save on children’s recreation at the cost of their safety and comfort.
The actions taken by the Russian Government after the Syamozero Lake tragedy are fully justified. But why did no one think of this before? Apparently, a tragedy must happen to bring officials’ attention to the situation with the children’s summer recreation. In fact, these camps were working without any control, bribing control authorities, for years.
Businessman Badri Shengelia – a ‘professional witness’ and notorious figure of criminal St. Petersburg – won’t help the law enforcement authorities anymore in their struggle against corruption, banditry, and internal intrigues. The professional ‘work’ of the killers has drawn a line under his controversial life and left plenty of questions to the investigators – because persons interested in this murder can be found literally everywhere, including their own agency.