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ID: HR19-1020

Presenting author: Daria Matyushina-Ocheret

Presenting author biography:

Dasha started working in the field of harm reduction and HIV prevention in 1998 with MSF-Holland in Moscow, Russia. Her field of expertise includes HIV and drug policy advocacy and health systems decision-making, management of community-based programs, and community systems strengthening in the CEECA region.

Advocacy for the Parental Rights of Women Who Use Drugs

Daria Matyushina-Ocheret, Maria Plotko

Issue: Stigma related to drug use and repressive drug policies have created misconceptions about women who use drugs (WUD) as mothers. WUD are often seen as those who do not want to have children, are not physically capable of giving birth to healthy babies, are unable to provide children with sufficient care, and are incompetent parents. Such concepts are often expressed by doctors, social support and child protection services, the police, judges, journalists and drug policy decision-makers. But the main concern is that such misconceptions are often shared by representatives of drug treatment services, human right organizations, women movements and even harm reduction services.

Setting: In Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) discrimination of WUD in healthcare settings has been relatively well documented, as well as their disproportionately low access to harm reduction and opioid substitution treatment services. However, the scale of losing child custody is unknown for most of EECA states, and women who lost child custody and cannot regain it remain in the shadow.

Key arguments: So far, the most solid data comes from Estonia where cooperation between local community groups and international organization started in 2017. First, we organized documentation of the circumstances of losing the child custody, role of different actors in this process, the results of women’s attempts to stay with their children and restore their parental rights. Submissions to international human right mechanisms were made, due to which a dialogue between policy makers, WUD community and child protection services started. Similar work was initiated in Russia in 2018.

Outcomes and implications: WUD parental rights should be systematically addressed on both country and international levels. Strong statements from the global harm reduction movement, professional associations, human rights defenders and the UN system including UNICEF are needed to support the change on the local level.