UN experts call for urgent action to protect Ukrainian children with disabilities in residential care institutions

GENEVA (7 October 2022) – UN human rights experts* are gravely concerned about the thousands of Ukrainian children with disabilities who were living in residential institutions and have been evacuated from war zones to Western Ukraine or to other countries, as well as those who have remained in unsafe areas. In particular, the experts draw attention to children with high support requirements** 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.

However, the UN experts assert that the Ukrainian Government regulation stipulating that all children evacuated from institutions — within Ukraine or to other countries — must remain together in those groups, results in the continued institutionalization of children. Often, these children are housed in overcrowded and understaffed facilities that cannot provide them with adequate care while also exposing them to harm.

The experts also noted that this policy is also hindering continued efforts to evacuate children from institutions, as some potential hosting countries are unable to comply with the Government decision.

“We are gravely concerned for the safety of children with disabilities and high support requirements. Due to the neglect associated with institutionalization, these children are likely to be susceptible to respiratory and malnutrition-related illnesses. As temperatures in Ukraine are expected to start dropping in October, and considering the extent of the damage to gas, electricity, and heating infrastructure, those children who remain in understaffed, underserviced, and overcrowded institutions in Ukraine are subjected to a disproportional risk of mortality,” said Rosemary Kayess, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The experts call upon all actors to work urgently to address these concerns and reduce the risk of death, trafficking, and abuse of Ukrainian children with disabilities in institutions.

Furthermore, they note the need for the Government of Ukraine to repeal regulations that stipulate evacuated children must remain together in groups. They call on countries hosting children with disabilities from Ukraine to have these children fully included 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 hosting countries, to develop a temporary foster family care programme for children evacuated from Ukrainian institutions, including children with disabilities.

The full statement can be found online.

*The experts: UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

** high support refers to an intensive support, physical, psychological and otherwise, which may be required by a person with benchmark disability for daily activities, to take independent and informed decision to access facilities and participating in all areas of life including education, employment, family and community life and treatment and therapy.