Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had “devastating” consequences for children in residential institutions. Thousands have been transferred to occupied territories or to Russia, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday 13 March.
HRW’s Bill Van Esveld stated:
This brutal war has starkly shown the need to end the perils faced by children who were institutionalised.
Returning children who were illegally taken by Russian forces should be an international priority.
At least several thousand children have been transferred to Russia or occupied territories, the report said. HRW called for a “concerted international effort” to return forcibly deported children and urged Russia to publish information on their whereabouts.
Ukraine and human rights groups have spoke out against the forced transfer of thousands of children since the war began, with Russian families said to be fostering Ukrainian children.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week referred to the “kidnapping, forced adoption and re-education of Ukrainian children committed by Russia”, calling this “a war crime and a crime against humanity”.
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In May 2022, Russia’s parliament changed its law, allowing authorities to change Ukrainian children’s nationality to Russian, and in turn the adoption of children by Russian families in Russia.
Ukraine’s institutionalised children
HRW said the war highlighted the urgent need for reform in Ukraine, which had over 105,000 children in institutions before the war: the largest number in Europe after Russia. Nearly half were children with disabilities.
Since 2005, the Ukrainian government has pledged to deinstitutionalise its children. It said that it would instead place them in family settings, but little was done. In fact, the number of children’s institutions actually grew. In 2015, there were 663 institutions, and this figure rose to 727 in 2022. 100 of those institutions – which housed over 32,000 children before 2022 – are now in territories under Russian occupation.
Many more children will be left orphaned or separated from their parents as a result of the war. HRW stated:
Children are being newly institutionalised, including children whose parents were killed and wounded, as well as whose parents experienced mental health crises due to the war.
HRW’s 55-page report also highlighted other problems. These include mental trauma to the displaced children, and neglect and inadequate care due to lack of caregivers. The report stated:
Many children in institutions had to shelter for weeks from bombardments in basements without electricity or running water, including children with disabilities.
A group of children from an institution in Mariupol did not speak for four days after they were evacuated to Lviv, in March 2022.
HRW argues that a task force is needed to track down missing children. It said:
The UN should establish an inter-agency task force dedicated to identifying the whereabouts and ensuring the welfare and return of unaccompanied and separated children who were forcibly transferred within Ukraine or deported to Russia, including children who were illegally adopted and naturalised.
Ukraine’s children are just some of more than 400 million who live in countries where there is violent conflict. For as long as there is war, children will always be vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. As nation states continue to use war to pursue power, children will always be the most strongly impacted victims.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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