Outrage erupted in some quarters of Belarusian society over an official’s comments that young girls discovered not to be virgins would be reported to the police.
Authorities have since walked back talk of such a move, which critics predicted would set in motion a cascade of problems for young people and their families.
“I’d call it a ‘gynecological denunciation,'” said Belarusian State University professor and writer Yulia Charnyauskaya. “It contravenes medical ethics.”
She predicted that such a move could devastate more than just those young patients and their families.
“The police will ask the girl, ‘With whom? When? Why? What for?’ And if, for example, a boy is 18 [years old] and a girl 15 1/2, the boy can be sent to prison [for statutory rape],” Charnyauskaya said. “So the number of suicides by boys could increase.”
Talk of a mandatory reporting obligation for doctors comes amid a reported upsurge in cases of sexual abuse against minors in Belarus. Interior Ministry officials said the number of sexual crimes committed against Belarusian teens increased 15-fold from 2013 to 2018.
Yauhen Dubanyevich, head of the Interior Ministry’s department to combat human trafficking, said in Minsk on February 15 that “it’s OK if [the loss of virginity] is a result of love with a boy. Nobody has been sent to jail for that yet.”
“But there are cases when a girl is a victim of rape…[and] because of her age is too ashamed to tell anyone about it,” Dubanyevich said. “We are talking about a girl 14 to 15 years old where a crime has been committed. Medical secrecy does not apply here.”
Belarusians reacted angrily to the prospect of requiring gynecologists to inform police if they determined that a female patient under 16 years of age appeared to have had sexual intercourse.
“We might face cases of girls simply jumping from high-rises,” Minsk psychotherapist Volha Andreyeva told RFE/RL. “The Interior Ministry has to be ready for those corpses on the asphalt.”
Such criticism appears to have led Deputy Prime Minister Ihar Petryshenka on February 20 to call the reports “an intentional leak and a baseless sensation.”
He added that a legal mechanism already exists for handling sexual abuse cases that is mandatory for medical personnel and police.
Further dismissing the notion of a new plan, he said that “no additional modifications in that area are planned.”
Dubanyevich had outlined a process in which underage girls would be required to visit a gynecologist annually. If such a patient were found to have had sexual intercourse, then the physician would involve police, who would turn to a psychologist and ultimately police investigators.
“Only outrage here and a prediction of negative effects [if that policy would be implemented],” said psychotherapist Andreyeva. “They are so ignorant about the human psyche. The boundaries of human stupidity are endless.”
Andreyeva argued that such treatment of private information was fraught with problems and could lead to family conflicts with dire results.
Current Belarusian law makes all medical examinations voluntary, according to Lyudmila Lyohkaya, head of the Health Ministry’s department for maternal and pediatric care.
Police may legally intervene in the medical cases of underage girls only if the girl is pregnant or injuries are discovered during a gynecological examination that indicate the patient has been raped or had an abortion.
Officials have cited an increase in Internet “grooming” of children by pedophiles in connection with an uptick in sexual crimes.
Dubanyevich also advised teachers to talk to students about safety and “sexual integrity.” He also noted that sexual abuse is a problem for both sexes.
“Statistics show that boys and girls are equal victims of pedophiles,” he said.
There were 581 reported cases of sexual abuse against children in Belarus in 2017, an 84 percent increase from the previous year.
Police also reported that around 80 percent of sexual crimes against children were committed by relatives, friends, or acquaintances, including teachers and doctors.
Belarusian politicians and law enforcement officials have vowed to crack down on sexual crimes against children.
Last year, neighboring Poland introduced a public register of sex offenders against children or people found to have been trafficking in pornography.