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Brukna community leader counters claims of children's rights violations

Last week, the State Inspectorate For Protection Of Children's Rights (VBTAI) and the Ombudsman discovered a number of children's rights violations at the religious community "Kalna svētību kopiena" at Brukna Manor. On August 25, in a press conference, the leader of the community, priest Andrejs Mediņš countered the allegations.

As LSM already reported, the inspection of the community revealed that children have been employed in rural works from 10 to 12 hours a day without the possibility of receiving medical assistance and, in the event of misbehavior, have been punished by having food withheld.

Brukna Manor is widely known as a place where since 2001 a public organization called Kalna svētību kopiena has been operating – a place where people with different addictions recover. Rehabilitation is based on prayer and work.

The initial inspection on August 5 was conducted in response to information provided by a private individual on potential violations of children's rights, including physical and emotional violence. At first, the complaint was thought to have been authored by a rebelling teenager but later this was proven to be false. On August 20, VBTAI and the Ombudsman's Office carried out a re-examination.

The head and spiritual leader of the community, Andrejs Mediņš, first remained silent in response to the accusations. On August 25, he spoke in a press conference and claimed the allegations to be "lies".

Priest Mediņš did not deny that there are very strict rules at the community. "We rise together, pray together, eat together, work together, swim together. One can't say - I won't work, I won't swim," said Mediņš.

The Brukna community is meant for people with serious addictions. Mediņš said not only adults with addictions end up at Brukna, but also "problematic teenagers". These teenagers, according to Mediņš, have no place else to go, schools will not accept them, and parents cannot deal with them. Teenagers end up there only with their own and their parents' consent, and they know of the lifestyle that is led in the community, said Mediņš.

In response to the accusation that "children have to work without water for 12 hours", Mediņš said these were "insults and lies". He added, "Everyone takes a three-litre bottle of water to the field in the morning, and if a little slob has not taken one, then what is the scandal about?"

At the press conference, Mediņš was supported by Jelgava diocese bishop Edvards Pavlovskis, who said minors do not spend the time together with former prisoners and addicts, as well as medical help is provided to anyone who needs it.

Mediņš said that the accusations had been made by some parent to get revenge on the community for expelling their child. VBTAI said, though, that the violations were discovered by the organization itself.

VBTAI, after listening to the conference, said that Mediņš' speech did contain emotional violence. "We have no right to call children 'slobs'," said VBTAI department head Evija Rācene.

The inspection admitted that the experience in Brukna does point out insufficient resources for minors and families in need. The community indicated that in the future, teenagers will not be accepted into the community.

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