Will the EU confront Ukraine on its recent child rights U-turn?

Today, the EU is meeting with the Government of Ukraine to discuss the human rights situation in the country. We are urgently asking the EU to push the Ukrainian government to take action to protect the rights and future of Ukraine’s hidden children in institutions.

Ukraine has one of highest institutionalisation rates

At least 1.3% of all children in Ukraine (96,577 children across 697 facilities) live without family in some type of residential institution – one of the highest rates of child institutionalisation in the world.  

Vulnerable children and their families often do not have access to community-based support, leading to their placement in institutions. This threatens their emotional, social, cognitive and physical development and exposing them to increased risk of violence and abuse. 

Study shows babies misdiagnosed

Many children are also misdiagnosed with medical conditions. Hope and Homes for Children’s Behind the Mask of Care study  found that 86 per cent of babies in one orphanage were misdiagnosed with serious illnesses. Sadly, the institutional environment including the lack of one-on-one care also caused 65.4 per cent to suffer from developmental delays. 

Ukraine has recently backpedalled on their plans to address these issues. At the beginning of the year, the Government of Ukraine published for public consultation a new Cabinet of Ministers draft order aiming to amend the deinstitutionalisation strategy. This policy about-turn ignores a series of disturbing reports about the country’s institutional care system.  

Today, the European Union (EU) is holding its annual dialogue with the Government of Ukraine on human rights. These so-called ‘human rights dialogues’ are one of the policy tools used by the EU to implement the EU’s policy in external human rights policy.  

The recently adopted EU Child Rights Strategy reiterates all children’s right to live with their families and in a community. It also emphasises the importance of developing integrated child protection systems that seek to prevent family separation, shift to community and family-based care, and provide support for children ageing out of care.   

During the dialogue, we ask the EU to:  

  • Remind the office of the president of Ukraine’s international human rights obligations, such as under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and call on them to refuse the draft order amending the deinstitutionalisation strategy.   
  • Encourage the government to establish a single national body to oversee and coordinate the implementation of the child protection and care reform through the deinstitutionalisation strategy, and ensure this body has adequate executive power, financial and human resources, and clear links to the various ministries responsible for the implementation of the strategy. This single body should strongly involve civil society and international organisations in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the reforms.   
  • Request the government to enforce the moratorium that will put an end to the placement of babies and very young children (0-3 years) in any type of institution. This should include a fixed date to stop the placement of children into institutions tied to a list of actions, measures and indicators for implementation.   
  • Raise the importance and urgency (caused by consequences of Covid situation) of clarifying the responsibilities of central and local authorities within decentralisation reform in order to build an effective child protection system. This should include appointing competent staff to identify and respond to the needs of the vulnerable children and protect them from violence and abuse, as well as making resources available at the local level to properly carry out the newly acquired child protection responsibility. Whenever needed, investments should be made into the retraining and upskilling of staff.  
  • To develop a clear definition of “institutional care” in the legislation, in conformity with international human rights law.  
  • Encourage the government to develop a national strategy on inclusive education with a roadmap on implementing inclusive education at all educational levels (early education, preschool, primary, secondary, tertiary) for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities. Activities should include the development of an efficient system of inclusive education training for teachers and creating inclusive education services to support children with special educational needs from the early ages to tertiary education.  

*This work is supported by Clifford Chance