Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” in partnership with its colleagues from Moldova (“Ave Copiii”), Ukraine (“Women’s Consortium”, member of the Coalition for the Rights of the Child in Ukraine) and Belarus (“Our Home”) held an online meeting devoted to the problems of children’s rights in closed institutions for minors in Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, which include prisons and pre-trial detention centers, correctional colonies, temporary detention centers for juvenile offenders, remand homes and medical institutions.
Olga Abramenko, the expert of ADC “Memorial”, spoke about her NGO’s experience in international advocacy for children’s rights, which includes reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and reports under the UN UPR procedure (for example, joint reports to the CRC with Ukrainian colleagues, made in 2019 and 2020, report “Belarus: immigration detention of children” in 2019, support for the report made by “Our Home” NGO). One of the problems raised by ADC “Memorial” concerns the detention of migrant children in special detention centres, where they find themselves together with juvenile offenders, often in conditions bordering on torture.
Stefania Kulaeva, the expert of ADC “Memorial”, spoke about international standards for combating torture of children, which are harsher compared to the existing approaches concerning the torture of adults. The Committees and special rapporteurs of the UN, as well as the European Court of Human Rights continuously speak out about these issues, there exist certain standards and documents within the framework of other international institutions (for example, the OSCE). COVID-19 pandemic has become a new challenge for the protection of children’s rights: in many countries, penitentiary and other institutions for minors have become even more closed, while convicted children have lost the opportunity to receive visits from their relatives, and remote communication was not properly provided. Lack of communication with the outside world has a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of minors in these closed institutions.
Expert Serhiy Pernikoza reported on the situation of children in various places of detention in Ukraine. He stressed that while organizing independent monitoring of closed institutions, it is necessary to assess not only the conditions of detention, nutrition, access to medical care and such, but also the possibilities for the development and socialization of children. It is important to understand why children are kept in these institutions and what goals are pursued by society. For example, it is quite often that in psycho-neurological boarding schools, children without serious diagnoses are kept without proper justification. There is no opportunity for children to learn and properly develop in remand homes. Independent monitoring should also aim to identify the risk of violence, bullying by the staff of closed institutions and other inmates.
During the discussion, the conference participants agreed that the existing toolkit for independent monitoring of children’s institutions is currently imperfect and needs to be improved. Children who cannot clearly report violations of their rights – such as young children or mentally-retarded children – require special attention, and observers should have appropriate monitoring methods.
Mariana Yanakevich of “Ave Copiii” (Moldova) spoke about the reforms of the juvenile justice and child protection system in her country. Deinstitutionalization has led to the closure of a number of children’s institutions, while special guidelines have been developed on how government institutions should act concerning children in difficult life situations. The experience of Moldova with regard to children under 3 years old, who are held in prisons with their mothers serving sentences, seems to be especially valuable: it has been recently agreed that these children would be admitted to nurseries. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has put this project on hold, but it will be resumed shortly.
This online conference 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 is supported by a re-grant from the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and funded by the European Union as part of supporting civil society in the region. Within its Re-granting Scheme, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) supports projects of its members that contribute to achieving the mission and objectives of the Forum. Grants are available for CSOs from the Eastern Partnership and EU countries. Key areas of support are democracy and human rights, economic integration, environment and energy, contacts between people, social and labour policies.
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.