Disabled children in care: another tragedy of Ukraine

At least 100,000 children, orphans or disabled, are crammed into Soviet-era institutions in Ukraine. Places where corruption and abuse are rampant.

With the largest number of children placed in orphanages, boarding schools or institutions for the disabled, a vast closed and often dysfunctional system, Ukraine is an exceptional case in Europe, according to NGOs. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the number of these children to be at least 100,000, and some NGOs as high as 200,000AFP a vast network of institutions inherited from the Soviet era and little developed since, administration torn between multiple ministries with no common vision and sometimes marred by corruption. The NGOs state that it is a closed system, which, according to experts, is used to receive funding, in particular from foreign donors, and often at the expense of the interests of children who are exposed to health problems and developmental delays. Another special feature of Ukraine: the majority of the children cared for are not orphans in the literal sense of the word, but according to NGOs they can still have at least one parent. Due to poverty, unemployment or social problems of the parents, mental or physical handicap of the child, health or language problems etc. there is a tendency – in the absence of social support services for the parents – to entrust the child to these orphanages and institutions.

The Abuses of baby houses »

Many Ukrainians also work in Russia or other European countries and entrust their children to grandparents, uncles or aunts. But sometimes that’s not possible.” and these children will “social orphans” and vulnerable “and are housed in institutions, observes Geneviève Colas, coordinator of the collective” Together against human trafficking for Secours Catholique Caritas France. This universe, where babies (aged 0-4 in “baby homes”) grow up like older children, has been the subject of concern for years and the scene of abuse in certain orphanages. In this poor country, where in some regions there is no social assistance or care from the authorities, parents of disabled children often have no choice but to place them in these institutions, explains Halyna Kurylo, representative in Ukraine of Disability Rights International (DRI), which has been working to improve the care of these children for 18 years. ” Every effort is made to maintain this system, the funding of which does not depend on the services provided but on the numbers of these institutions; For this system to work, you need children, for jobs to remain, you need children… ” Regrets Halyna Postoliuk, Director for Ukraine of the NGO ” Hope and homes for children “, that speaks of children ” hostages this system. ” In an orphanage with 80 children, only three may be legally orphaned and available for adoption says American Colleen Holt Thompson, adoptive mother of six Ukrainian children and regular volunteer in Ukraine since 2006 with orphanages through a network of American adoptive parents. For the others they go living at the orphanage until they come of age, even if their parents never visit them and there is no hope they will ever return home, Ms. Thompson testifies.

700 institutions in Ukraine

When they come of age, they find themselves alone and unsupported, in precarious circumstances, and the vicious cycle can repeat itself for generations, she laments. ” Hope and homes for children published a report on the system entitled ” The illusion of protection », which estimates the number of institutions on Ukrainian territory at almost 700. At the beginning of 2020, almost 2,800 babies and toddlers were divided into around forty.” baby houses “. The care system for these placed children is not a favorable environment for the development and socialization of children and its closed nature allows for abuse and violence against them “, regrets this NGO. Ukraine is one of the countries in Europe where Caritas ” has been most concerned with the issue of exploitation and trafficking in human beings, especially children, over the past 20 years ‘ remarks Ms. Colas. A reform with alternative mediation solutions was initiated by the government in 2017, but did not lead to any significant improvements and was even stopped at the end of 2021. According to a 2020 survey by the NGO network, “ Ukrainian Children’s Rights Network (UCRN) in six regions, the number of children placed in institutions has not decreased or even increased in most of these regions.

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