Minors Involved in the Presidential Election Campaign: What Does The Law Say?
ZdG holds evidence of minors involved in political advertising for the presidential candidate Igor Dodon. Every day, they distribute newspapers on the streets of Chișinău and campaign for the Socialist candidate. Most of them are members of the Young Guard, a public Association affiliated with the Socialists’ Party. According to Children’s Lawyer, involving children in electoral activities is unacceptable; However, national legislation does not provide any sanction for those who use underage youth for electoral purposes.
On November 8, several minors from the Young Guard, an Association affiliated to the Socialist Party, entered numerous flats in the Botanica sector of Chisinau to distribute newspapers promoting Igor Dodon urging people to vote for him.
“We are to make electoral campaign”
We met Anastasia as she was getting out of an apartment building. She said she was 18 and that she had been volunteering in the Young Guard for two years. When asked what she was doing there she answered shortly that she was campaigning. Anastasia also convincingly stated that other young people, engaged in similar activities, are also over 18. “They don’t take us if we are under 18, it’s forbidden,” she said. Here is a part of our conversation:
ZdG: What is your job?
A: We are campaign advertisers. We do it every election campaign, canvassing door-to-door and distributing newspapers. We also participate in various events throughout the year. ZDG: Are you paid for your work?
A: No, we are not. It is volunteer work. Volunteering counts a lot when applying for a job, especially in American companies.
ZdG: Why did you choose this candidate to volunteer for ?
A: Because he is good. He did a lot for our country. And party members are trustworthy.
ZdG: How many volunteers are you?
A: Quite many. Our group consists of ten people. We work in the Botanica sector. But there are lots of similar groups working in Râșcani, Ciocana, Buiucani, and Centru sectors of Chisinau.
ZdG: Did you work before the first round too?
A: Yes, we have been campaigning from the very beginning.
ZdG: How do people react to your activity?
A: Hmm, differently, lots of people scold us…. But there are some who love Dodon.
In the profile photo of her social page Anastasia is wearing a red vest with the candidate’s name printed on it, the same one she usually wears at work. A curious thing we cleared up is that Anastasia will only turn 18 in April 2021.
Electoral campaign for Dodon instead of attending lessons
Photos of other Anastasia’s mates involved in the electoral campaign were published on the Young Guard social page for the Botanica sector. It didn’t come as a big surprise when ZdG identified several minors among them.
On the morning of November 10 we met some more young people wearing red socialists clothing. They entered the headquarters of the Territorial Organization of the Socialist Party. Among them, we recognized the 16-year-old Alexander, a young man who posted quite a bit of photos on social media showing him and his friends handing out Dodon’s newspapers on the streets. On his page on social network the boy indicated the Young Guard as his job. That morning we stopped Alexander to ask him about his age. The young man insisted that he was 18 years old, although he could not provide any evidence.
“They are over 18 years old, but they do not go to school or university.”
We saw the young people enter the Socialist Party offices at the hour they were supposed to be in class. When we asked Alexandru what school he goes to, he said he didn’t study.
He claims some of his friends go to college, others – to university and that “they attend lessons in the afternoon.” The young man is well aware that minors are not allowed to participate in political electoral campaigns.
Alexandru Dombrovschi, one of the Young Guard leaders, assured us that all the young people involved in electoral campaign activities are over 18 and many of them do not study. “Everyone I know is 18 years old. Most of them are members of the Young Guard and have been volunteering for many years. These are the same guys who have joined us since 2011-2012. Currently there are some other young people who are driven to volunteering, but as far as I am concerned, they are not studying. They are all over 18 years old, but they do not go to school or university,” says Dombrovschi, urging us to talk to the president of the Socialist Party’s territorial organization for more information.
“I know ZdG’s policy, you and your colleagues are good at washing dirty laundry in public.”
Anatolie Labuneț, Socialist Party deputy and president of the territorial organization in the Botanica sector, states that the teenagers spread information about Moldova’s politics. Answering the question about the activists’ age, the deputy said that there are no minors among them as they always check their IDs.
ZdG: What do these young people do?
A.L.: They inform people about what is happening in the country, who is the candidate and what is the political situation in general.
ZdG: Shouldn’t they be in class now?
A.L.: High School graduates are normally over 19 or 20 years old. They are free people and they do what they want to.
ZdG: Are you saying that everyone who entered the building this morning is over 18?
A.L.: Sure, each and every. I verified their ages on their identity papers.
ZdG: Among them, we identified teenagers aged 16-17. How could you explain this?
A.L.: It is not valid. You may rely upon it, all our volunteers are over 18.
ZdG: Do you know that involving minors in electoral campaigns is a flagrant violation of the law?
A.L.: I’ll tell you what. I know the ZdG’s policy, you and your colleagues are good at washing dirty laundry in public.
ZdG identified minors who worked in the election campaign to promote the image of Igor Dodon not only in the Botanica Young Guard but also in other sectors of Chișinău.
“This is violation of children’s rights”
The Law on the Rights of the Child, Art. 3, paragraph 3 clearly states: “It is prohibited to involve children in political activities and their association in political parties.”
In a press release on October 6, Ombudsman Maia Bănărescu said that she had closely followed the use of the child’s image since the start of the election campaign.
The Children’s Lawyer called on presidential contestants to be fair, and respect children’s rights, highlighting that due to their vulnerability, minors should not be used as electoral tools to win voters’ sympathy. Her call, however, was ignored.
Bănărescu argues that it is prohibited to involve children in any pre-election events, as this is a violation of children’s rights. She emphasizes the importance of the educational process and the fact that it cannot be interrupted for the sake of other activities, including work. On the other hand, the Child Ombudsman states that we cannot talk about electoral law violation in this regard until such cases are identified.
“We cannot say that this is a violation, because our legislation does not clearly define children’s campaigning or the use of children in electoral campaigns. In my view, this is a breach of the child’s rights. The age of the child plays the main role. Until the age of 18, the child does not participate as a party member in the electoral campaigns,” says Maia Bănărescu.
“We rely on the goodwill and responsibility of the electoral contestants not to involve children.”
Bănărescu claims that the electoral legislation lacks administrative or criminal sanction for minors involvement in political activity. “The legislation does not provide for any sanctions against the involvement of children in pre-election activities, be it campaigning or distribution of newspapers and advertising materials. There are no legal provisions regarding the exploitation of minors by electoral subjects. We rely on the goodwill and responsibility of the electoral contestants” states the child’s lawyer.
The Ombudsman works on drawing up a thematic report on the involvement of children in all electoral activities. After the election completion, proposals shall be made to amend both the electoral legislation and the law providing for administrative or criminal sanctions, depending on the degree of social danger.