Vodičková (ČTK): Marie Vodičková wants to file an appeal against the regional offices' decision. (ČTK)Marie Vodičková wants to file an appeal against the regional offices’ decision. (ČTK)

Marie Vodičková, chair of the Fund for Children in Need, is again locked in a battle with the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry. As in some of her past conflicts, the case has garnered plenty of media attention. It is being presented as a battle with incompetent bureaucracy and imperfect laws on one side and pure good on the other. “It is incredible that they are trying to punish someone who is trying to help,” Atuálně.cz quotes Vodičková.

According to three regional offices, the fund arranged illegal adoptions last year. The offices have issued a CZK 450,000 fine, and it is highly likely that the ministry will support this finding. Officials say, for instance, that in two cases, the fund used false paternity documents – a man wanting to adopt the child signed with the Registrar’s Office as the child’s father. The mother was in a difficult social situation and wanted to give up the child but at the same time did not want to risk that the child would be placed in an institution. According to existing laws, only the state has the power to arrange adoptions. Vodičková says this law does not make sense. She wants to file an appeal against the regional offices’ decision.

The fund’s most famous media campaign took place seven years ago. The case of the “kidnapping” of three Mesárošov siblings. The fund took in three neglected abandoned
children and handed them over to a family that went into hiding with them all over the Czech Republic. The fund refused to hand over the children to the institution where they were supposed to go, according to a court ruling. Vladimír Špidla, prime minister at the time, took the position that the fund was operating just on the boundaries of what is legal and that the state should handle cases such as this one. Marie Vodičková countered that institutional care for children should be the last option. According to a report from the ombudsman’s office, both the state, which acted too slowly, and the fund disrupted the children’s privacy by generating too much media attention and by presenting the case as a conflict between the state and the children.

Another famous media campaign happened four years ago, when Mare Vodičková harnessed tabloids in accusing Jiří Pilař, head of the Education Ministry’s institutional care department at the time, of abusing children in the 1980s. Vodičková presented the media with a paradox: a schoolmaster abusing children. Her arguments were disputable, to say the least, weakened by the fact that she allegedly learned about the case as a youth guardian. Vodičková’s fight for children’s rights might have made her a media star, but it has also made her an easy target. Former Communist Party member, an attorney under the previous regime, a person who allegedly had big problems raising eight children in custodial care.

Without a doubt, Marie Vodičková has done much to open the debate on child-care institutions, adoptions and custodial care. And she has brought media attention to the absurdity of a system where children’s homes and infant-care institutions are bursting at the seams. But her critique also raises an important question: By what means should we or can we fight a faulty system and bad laws. By breaking the law, by using tabloids, by employing any means available?

Whatever the answer, thinking that someone who is trying to help and has good intentions should be spared from sanctions is simply wrong.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.