UN experts call for urgent action to protect Ukrainian children with disabilities studying at boarding schools

On October 7, 2022, experts from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities issued a statement regarding the safety of Ukrainian children with disabilities who lived in boarding schools and were evacuated from war zones to Western Ukraine or other countries, as well as those who are currently located in unsafe regions of Ukraine. In particular, experts pay attention to children with a high need for physical, psychological and other types of support, who are negatively affected by institutionalization.

“We support the effort of the Ukrainian Government to ensure evacuated children do not go missing, are not adopted by persons in other countries, and will return to Ukraine once the war is over. In this regard, we note the moratorium on inter-country adoption under the conditions of Martial Law,” said Mikiko Otani, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

UN experts argue that the Ukrainian government’s decree that all children evacuated from institutions to other parts of Ukraine or other countries must remain together in these groups, leads to the continued institutionalization of these children. They are often placed in overcrowded, understaffed institutions where they cannot be properly cared for and are also exposed to danger. The experts also noted that this policy hinders further efforts to evacuate children from institutions, as some potential host countries are unable to comply with the Ukrainian government’s decision.

“We are seriously concerned about the safety of children with disabilities and the high demands for support. Because of the neglect associated with institutionalization, these children are likely to be susceptible to respiratory and malnutrition-related illnesses. It is already October, and given the extent of the damage done to the gas, electricity and heating infrastructure, children who remain in understaffed, underserved and overcrowded institutions in Ukraine are at a disproportionate risk of mortality,” said Rosemary Kayess, chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Experts call on all UN member states to urgently work to address these problems and reduce the risk of death, human trafficking and abuse of Ukrainian children with disabilities in institutions. In addition, they note the need for the government of Ukraine to abolish the rules according to which evacuated children must remain together in groups. They call on countries hosting children with disabilities from Ukraine to fully include these children in their national child protection systems. Finally, the experts call on international humanitarian agencies, the European Union and donors to support timely funding and expertise for Ukraine and host countries to develop a temporary foster care program for children evacuated from Ukrainian institutions, including children with disabilities.

Before the full-scale invasion of Russia, there were more than 105,000 children in Ukrainian boarding schools. From February to July 2022, 4,505 of them were evacuated outside of Ukraine. Most children are now in Poland – 36%, Germany – 17%, Italy – 8%, Austria – 6%, Romania – 6%, and Turkey – 6%. According to Russian data (TASS), as of July 24, 2022, 448 000 Ukrainian children crossed the Russian border, of which more than two thousand are orphans and children deprived of parental care.

It is known that at least 100 Ukrainian orphans, illegally taken by the Russian military from the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” and from the territories seized by the Russian troops after February 24, were transferred to Russian foster families by the Russian authorities.