In the fall of 2018, the government of Ukraine submitted the National report “Consolidated fifth and a sixth periodic national report on the implementation by Ukraine of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child” (2011-2017) to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Meanwhile, according to public organizations, the information in the document that reflects the efforts of the government in the field of compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child is not balanced.
For example, the positive dynamics of statistics is achieved due to the lack of data on the occupied Crimea and the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2015. Much of the report focuses on special protection measures, but there is no section on violence against children. Human rights organizations record gaps in legislation on protecting the rights of the child, significant problems in the implementation of existing legal acts, as well as systemic shortcomings in the activity of authorities and subordinate institutions.
Due to the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation and the hostilities in Eastern Ukraine living conditions of children became more difficult since early 2014. This has led to a huge number of negative consequences, including the thousands of human victims, as well as hundreds of children victims, the emergence of about one and a half million of internally displaced persons. The state should respond to these new challenges. However, its actions are of a point of nature and are not systematic.
Twenty-nine non-governmental organizations, each working in a particular direction (or several directions), have united to produce an alternative (shadow) report on the state of compliance with the provisions of the Convention. The work on it, under the coordination and expert support of the Coalition for the Rights of the Child in Ukraine and the Public Union Ukrainian Network for the Rights of the Child”, lasted for the last six months. The alternative report was submitted in Kyiv on March 28. The event was almost unnoticed in the pre-election heat of passion. However, the document deserves attention because it clearly answers the question of what challenges in the field of children’s rights exist today and why the stated reforms do not give the expected results.
Objects of protection
“The work on the report allowed us to draw certain conclusions,” said the executive director of the Ukrainian Network for the Rights of the Child” Svitlana Klochko. “Unfortunately, since 2011 and until today, ensuring the rights of the child is not a priority in the state policy. There is practically no policy on these issues. The vertical of state authorities responsible for its implementation is not clearly defined. Children remain the objects of protection, not the subjects of law. And this is a very problematic issue.
The changes in the legislation are implemented situationally, often – for solving specific cases. Currently, the legal and regulatory activities do not correspond to the challenges and the needs in the field of children’s rights. Most legislative initiatives are of cosmetic nature without an integrated approach. For example, since 2011, 20 innovations were introduced into the Law “On child protection”. The Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 866 “The issue of activity of guardianship and trusteeship bodies” which fully coordinates and gives the algorithm of actions of all authorities which are engaged in the issues of children’s rights protection was enriched by 18 changes. It is patching of holes, not a systemic state policy for the protection of the rights of the child.
The issue of the protection of the rights of the child is missing in the implementation of numerous initiated reforms. In comparison with the reforms of education, healthcare, decentralization, the reform of the system of children’s rights protection does not have sufficient support either at the level of state leadership or at the level of local authorities and local self-government.
Unfortunately, the important reform of decentralization has led to a serious decline in the quality of social protection of the child. There is a very serious problem of the transfer of powers from regional state administrations (which by 2020 will stop their functioning) to joint local communities. We are faced with the fact that very often the heads of JLCs do not understand what is the protection of the rights of the child and what responsibility is assigned to them. At the level of JLCs, the services for children are not created, there are no positions for social workers, etc. As a result, the child suffers.
There is currently no coherent system for monitoring compliance with the rights of the child, especially in institutional settings. This function should be performed by the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, but the number of people who work there is not able to cover the entire list of problematic issues that exist in the system today.
State plans and programs for children are unfortunately financed on a residual basis, from the funds allocated to the functioning of the relevant ministries and agencies, or from the funds that remain after meeting more important needs in the opinion of the government. The amount and proportion of the national budget spent on children through public and private institutions have not been introduced in the last seven years.
The lack of transparency in the formation of budgets and the participation of citizens in these processes remains a problem. This leads to an uneven distribution of funds for children in different sectors. For example, financial support for schools is different. There are no minimum standards for providing schools with material resources, which creates inequalities for different groups of children and is the basis for constant conflicts between the administration of the institution and parents… Funding depends on the active position of the school administration and parents. There is a significant difference in the salary funds financed by the state and the budgets of local authorities. For example, selective monitoring in Kharkiv showed that the salary fund per student is from 10,000 to 30,000 UAH. The lack of transparent budgeting, both at the central and the national levels, makes it impossible to draw conclusions, which is the reason for the difference in costs of children’s education.
The state does not use the appropriate and effective means for publicizing the principles and provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to the possible extent. Information is fragmented and is most often initiated by public organizations and intergovernmental institutions.
In the universities that train teachers, social workers and other specialists in the field of child rights protection attention is not paid to teaching the rights of the child. The result of this lack of knowledge of the rights and norms of the current legislation is that people who are directly responsible for the protection of children’s rights may not understand how the legislation regulates this activity.
Unfortunately, the state does not make its reports and the results of their consideration by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child widely publicized. Currently, recommendations are not even officially translated. This is done by public organizations.
Of course, there have been positive changes over the past seven years. For example, the introduction of temporary care and rehabilitation of the child in foster families until the child and his biological family overcome difficult life circumstances. This is a short-term service. At present, the mechanism for organizing and mentoring a child living in a boarding school has been defined. However, a detailed cause-and-effect relationships analysis is needed as to why these innovations, despite their importance and relevance, do not get serious distribution within the state.”
Life and survival
Today, more than 600 thousand children in Ukraine live in families where parents do not provide them with proper care and education. The number of families below the poverty line is increasing. Thus, in 2015, 564 thousand families with children received state aid in the form of payments for low-income families, and in 2017 – 898 thousand families. There are 706 thousand families in which children are raised by one of the parents (help for single people with children). This figure is almost 30 times higher than the number of children registered in social services due to difficult life circumstances in the National report “Consolidated fifth and sixth periodic national report on the implementation by Ukraine of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child” (2011-2017). Meanwhile, the number of children whose parents are deprived of parental rights is up to 10 thousand persons each year. But increasingly fewer children return to their families through the restoration of parental rights by their parents: in 2014 – 1101 children, and in 2017 – only 694.
The situation of the armed conflict in the East of the country, which poses a threat to children’s life and health, expanded the list of pre-existing problems since 2014. The state has not developed a mechanism for the evacuation of the population from the combat zone. Due to the threat to life and health, some children (about 150 thousand) together with their parents were forced to leave to other regions of Ukraine on their own. More than 500 thousand children continue to live in the uncontrolled territory. The building of the Center of Socio-Psychological Rehabilitation in the town of Toretsk in Donetsk region, inside of which there where 28 children, and which was damaged by shelling in May 2018 is among the examples of existing risks.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, from April 14, 2014 to August 15, 2017, 90 boys and 47 girls were killed. Human rights defenders documented evidence of 5 cases of murders of children, 6 illegal detentions with torture and inhuman treatment, 8 cases of deaths and 19 cases of injuries of children as a result of indiscriminate shelling in the conflict zone, as well as attacks on 79 educational institutions in 34 settlements of Luhansk and Donetsk regions for the period from 2014 to 2017.
In total, 700 schools were damaged or destroyed in four years (2014-2018). The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Education keep postponing the signing of the Safe Schools Declaration, moreover, the Ministry of defense admitted that it uses the school premises that are no longer used by children.
There is no effective mechanism for identifying children who are directly involved in hostilities or armed conflicts. Interstate, state, inter-sectoral and sectoral standards of child safety and welfare have not been established or introduced yet. More than 200 thousand children need urgent psychological help because of psychological traumas caused by the death of relatives and friends, sheltering in basements under fire and the like. In 2017 alone, more than 40 children were killed or injured in the territory of Donbas.
As a result of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, most of the territory of Donbas on both sides of the contact line has become contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war.
“I would like to say a few words about children who have lost their health as a result of the armed conflict,” Bohdan Moisa, the analyst of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, says. “I’ll start with statistics. Unfortunately, it is non-existent. There are no statistics on the number of wounded conducted by the authorities. There are statistics that are provided by the field organizations and missions, including the international ones. There are no such figures at the national level. Local state administrations have different information even on the answers to inquiries of various organizations. For example, in the Luhansk region, according to one data, in 2014-2018, 21 children were wounded, other information shows the number of 27 wounded for the same period. Unfortunately, it is unknown how these statistics are kept. Thus, disability is established for two children.
More than 100 children were wounded in the Donetsk region. No children were diagnosed with a disability. It is clear that some families with children moved to other areas. There are statistics on medical care. In Zaporizhia region, it is established for about 30 children, in Dnipropetrovsk region – 25, in Kyiv region – one child.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Social Policy is not in a hurry with the introduction of the register of the wounded, but this is important, because if we are talking about injury and deterioration of health, obviously, we need to plan rehabilitation services and aids. The lack of data on the assessment of needs prevents the planning of budgetary allocations to this field.
The Ministry of Social Policy says in the social report that in 2017, the provision of means of rehabilitation covered almost 100% of the needs. However, a survey of families with children in the Donetsk region shows that some of them have been waiting for these means (in particular, wheelchairs) for the fifth year on end, and still didn’t get them.
“Until this time, many Ukrainian regulations include wordings like ‘children with defects, deficiencies, disturbances’,” the head of the public organization Social Synergy Marianna Onufryk says. “For some reason, we are afraid of the word ‘disability’, which is safely used in developed countries.
In Ukraine by this time the medical model of disability prevails. We perceive disability as a disease. Respectively, most of the activities and services that are also received by children with disabilities are medical. A lot of public organization, especially the parental ones, note that this is wrong. This model also has a negative impact on quite progressive and correct reforms that are taking place in Ukraine, for example, the introduction of inclusive education. I cannot help noting the significant progress on this issue since 2017. But the medical model of disability acts in such a way that by this time the diagnosis is decisive for determining both the development program and the activities in relation to the child in an inclusive process and in education in general. There are positive steps toward resolving this issue. The Cabinet of Ministers has adopted an order on the introduction of an international classification of functioning, but it is not being implemented properly.
There is a catastrophic shortage of personnel in all areas related to education, social, medical and rehabilitation services – both in terms of quantity and quality.
The lack of quality services, that correspond to the needs, unfortunately, leads to the institutionalization of children with disabilities. In turn, the quality of institutional care services is far from perfect. We have many facts of violence in such institutions, and this is reflected in the alternative report.
Two months have already passed since the adoption of the Law on Social Services, on which we pin our hopes and which was developed with the help of many public organizations. This law could solve many issues, at least at the legislative level. In addition, as a part of the implementation of the law, we expect the update of the standards of public social services. In particular, the daycare service which is very important for children with disabilities requires a review and update of this, ranging from the standard itself to the typical regulation on the branch of daycare.
The service of early intervention for children with disabilities is our great expectation for further reforms. Despite some legislative steps in this direction, the early intervention service is provided in some regions by non-governmental organizations. Unfortunately, the network is not developed yet, the standards are not determined.
I also want to stress the introduction of the yet unvoiced service that requires great attention in relation to children with disabilities – the service of social and labor adaptation. When children, especially those with severe disabilities, who, unfortunately, will not be able to compete in the free employment market, must acquire some kind of specialty for their future lives. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Social Policy, which should be the coordinating body for the protection of the rights of the child, does not pay due attention to this.”
There are still a lot of topics and problems raised in the “Alternative Report on Ukraine’s Compliance with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child”, which now contains 66 pages (it will be shortened). It is impossible to review its full text here. The report contains an analysis of Ukraine’s compliance with the previous recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as 136 relevant recommendations of non-governmental organizations to the Ukrainian government. You can read it here.
Text by Hanna Drozd
Illustrations by Nataliia Stakhnova