June 1 – International Children’s Day – Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” in partnership with colleagues from Moldova (“Ave Copiii”), Ukraine (“Women’s Consortium”, member of the Coalition “Children’s Rights in Ukraine”) and Belarus (“Our House”) raised the problem of observing children’s rights in closed children’s institutions – places of imprisonment, such as correctional colonies, temporary detention centres for juvenile offenders, correctional centres and other similar institutions in Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.
At a joint webinar experts on children’s rights have discussed a number of problems. In all three countries, the Soviet legacy of the juvenile justice system and the closed system of child detention facilities have still been preserved. According to the UN human rights bodies (Committee on the Rights of the Child, Committee against Torture), torture and inhuman treatment of children remain a problem in all three countries – Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. The means of restraint, which have been prohibited for use against children by international standards, are not always properly defined as torture in the national laws of these countries. In practice, the same forms of torture are used for both adults and children.
Prohibition of all forms of inhuman treatment applies to all children, including children in detention. It has been established that children experience pain and suffering differently from adults because of their physical and emotional development and their special needs. Actions by law enforcement agencies, which are permitted in relation to adult accused and convicted persons (such as the use of handcuffs, deprivation of visits), are inadmissible for minors. Children have more developmental needs in education and recreation, which are not met in closed institutions.
In 2018, the UN Committee against Torture expressed its concern about reports of violence against children in juvenile institutions in Belarus. The country lacks effective mechanisms of response to violence and proper assistance to victims is not available there. Since 2014, the government of Belarus has toughened responsibility for crimes related to narcotic substances (Article 328 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus), including the slightest offenses (such as smoking a joint offered by an agent-provocateur, correspondence with someone who turned out to be a drug dealer, while trying to find a job). For these teenagers receive huge prison sentences, while the conditions of detention of children convicted of these crimes have deteriorated to inhuman recently. Belarus has also not abolished the death penalty. In January 2020, two brothers, 19 and 21 years old, who had been raised in an orphanage, were sentenced to capital punishment. In 2020-2021, the number of cases of harassment, detention and use of violence against adolescents, who have been accused of participating in protest activities, were reported, some of these minors were tortured during police interrogations.
Reforms of juvenile justice and child protection systems are ongoing in Ukraine, within the framework of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and related international human rights obligations. Ukraine’s National Strategy for Reforming the Juvenile Justice System for the period before 2023 and the country’s Action Plan for its implementation have been adopted. However, monitoring carried out by the Coalition for the Rights of the Child in Ukraine showed the fragmented nature of the reforms of the juvenile justice system and widespread abuse in closed children’s institutions. In its 2018 annual report, Ukraine’s Ombudsman have also drawn attention to the violation of children’s rights in closed institutions.
Moldova has embarked on a large-scale reform of the juvenile justice and child protection systems. Over the past decade, deinstitutionalization reform has led to the closure of a number of children’s institutions, reducing the number of children kept in them from 12,000 in 2007 to 1,200 in 2018. However, there are still many challenges stemming from the lack of capacity of this system and the legacy of a punitive approach to justice. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child drew attention to the large number of children subjected to abuse and humiliation in institutions and schools. The Committee recommended (in 2017) that measures be taken to eradicate child abuse and protect the victims. Some adolescents are held in adult pre-trial detention centers, where they have very limited access to quality education and medical services. At the same time, adolescents serving their sentences can attend school, where they are accompanied by just one escort – undoubtedly, this is a progressive practice, as noted by experts from Ave Copiii, the leading Moldovan organization for children’s rights.
The webinar was held within the framework of the project “Promotion of modern international standards of children’s rights: deinstitutionalisation and humanisation of closed institutions in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine”. The project benefits from support through the EaP Civil Society Forum Re-granting Scheme (FSTP) to Members and is funded by the European Union as part of its support to civil society in the region.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its content is the responsibility of ADC Memorial and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.