Divorced men complain that the law favors women


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- While feminists say Russian women are the victims of pervasive discrimination, one group of men complains that women already have far too many rights.

"We have been intimidated and humiliated ever since women started to rebel against us," says Israel Kaganovich, the president of an organization called "Father."

Mr. Kaganovich is heavy on rhetoric: "Man is like a needle and a woman is a thread attached to it. Man directs and the thread follows to accomplish the task." But behind him stands a large number of men -- most of them divorced fathers who say that Soviet authorities relegated control of family life to women exclusively, and that men can all too easily lose rights to their children.

When parents divorce, men are permitted to see their children only three hours a week -- unless their former wives grant them more time.

dTC Since the law so tightly restricts fathers' access to their children, some men argue, it also discourages the fathers from assuming their responsibilities.

However, the government's strict controls over individuals have meant that men always pay child support -- 25 percent of their pay if they have one child and 33 percent if they have two.

Lev Semashko, a former member of the St. Petersburg City Council, wants to have the law changed so that a divorce decree would be contingent upon parents' agreeing on child custody matters.

"All the men here are quite responsible," Mr. Semashko said at a recent meeting with about 10 other members of Father. "Their main problem is they met aggressiveness in their wives, especially in the care of children."

Even if a father manages to get a court to rule in his favor on a custody issue, Mr. Semashko says, there are no regulations governing enforcement.

"The mother can ignore it," he says, "and nothing ever happens."

Other laws also work against fathers, says Alexander Krasilnikov, the divorced father of two children.

"If a child is ill, the law permits the mother two weeks of paid time off to care for him and two more weeks of unpaid time," he says. "A father can only take three days off from work."

Mr. Krasilnikov says that because people were only regarded as another raw material during the Communist years, there was no attention to protecting children or trying to help troubled families.

"There's no help in solving conflicts," Mr. Krasilnikov says. "No organization is interested in saving a family."

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