27 February 2021

Ukraine must not backtrack on shutting down its 700 orphanages

Ukraine’s U-turn on shutting the world’s biggest network of state-run orphanages flies in the face of international law and leaves 100,000 children at risk of torture, sexual violence and trafficking.

 

An orphanage in Ukraine

© Alexander Glyadyelov


 

Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers is backpedalling on a National Strategy which was due to shut all of its Soviet-style children’s institutions by 2026.

Only last year (June 2020) the eastern European country reaffirmed plans to start moving 100,000 children out of orphanages and into families—equivalent to rehoming the populations of Monaco, San Marino and Liechtenstein combined. It followed research showing that 92%t of the children had a living parent, and all had extended family.

 

“Only last year the eastern European country reaffirmed plans to start moving 100,000 children out of orphanages and into families—equivalent to rehoming the populations of Monaco, San Marino and Liechtenstein combined… The plans now look dead in the water”

 

The plans now look dead in the water, however, after ministers proposed to continue locking up vulnerable children under the age of three. They have also announced that 50,000 disabled children are now set to remain warehoused in its Soviet-style institutions indefinitely.

The Government of Ukraine’s policy about-turn ignores a series of disturbing reports about the country’s orphanage system.

Hope and Homes for Children’s Behind the Mask of Care study revealed how vulnerable children in Ukraine are often misdiagnosed with medical conditions and prevented from attending mainstream schools. Parents are then coerced into sending them to institutions, far away from their families. Our study found that 86 per cent of babies in one orphanage were misdiagnosed with serious illnesses. Sadly, a lack of one-on-one care caused 90 per cent of them to suffer developmental disorders.

Another report by Disability Rights International exposed how disabled children living in Ukrainian institutions face forced labour, routine beatings, sexual abuse, forced abortions, drugging, shackling, exposure to brothels operating from orphanage basements and trafficking for illegal organ transplants .

 

“Another report by Disability Rights International exposed how disabled children living in Ukrainian institutions face forced labour, routine beatings, sexual abuse, forced abortions, drugging, shackling, exposure to brothels operating from orphanage basements and trafficking for illegal organ transplants.”

 

This week Hope and Homes for Children has joined forces with likeminded NGOs (including Lumos and SOS Children’s Villages International). Together, we’re calling on the European Union (EU) to put pressure on the Government of Ukraine to revive plans to dismantle its orphanage system. It follows a similar call to action which we made in December 2020 with 21 NGOs, but which was ignored by Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers.

“If Ukraine continues to lock up babies and disabled children, it will violate international law and commit tens of thousands of children to a childhood of confinement and misery.” says Mark Waddington CBE, the CEO of Hope and Homes for Children.

The 2019 UN Resolution on the Rights of The Child, which the Government of Ukraine supported, commits all 193 member states to eliminating orphanages.

Mark added: “Ukraine’s orphanage system is huge and a major draw on the public purse, employing 60,000 people. The funding that supports these salaries and buildings could be far more effectively deployed to reintegrate children back with their families or, where this isn’t possible, develop alternative family care arrangements like fostering.

“Vitally, these funds could be used to prevent family break up and separation in the first place, by being used to address housing problems or respond to childcare needs while parents work.

“The EU must act now to stop Ukraine from reneging on its obligation to children, and recommit to eliminating its orphanage system.

“Because children always belong in families–never orphanages.”

The EU has a track record of supporting Eastern European non-member states to dismantle their orphanage systems, including in pre-accession Romania, where 100,000 children living in institutions has reduced to 4,500 in just 20 years.

 

“Ukraine’s orphanage system is huge and a major draw on the public purse… The funding that supports these salaries and buildings could be far more effectively deployed to reintegrate children back with their families”

 

Poverty, the pressures of single parenting, substance abuse, the war in Crimea and impact of Coronavirus have seen many children unnecessarily taken into institutions in Ukraine. Disabled children are overrepresented (they make up 90% of all children in institutions) because they are too often excluded from schools and are unable to access health and vital social services–services that could be more than paid for by the funding that is locked up in the orphanage system.