On the 23rd September, MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt hosted an event in the European Parliament initiating discussions around the topic of “The Invisible face of the Ukrainian conflict: the impact of children”. Numerous Ukrainian civil society advocates were present at the event, together with the Ukrainian Embassy in Brussels and EU representatives from the European External Action Service, the European Parliament, and from DG NEAR and DG ECHO (European Commission). ChildPact and the Ukrainian child-focused coalition, ‘Children Rights in Ukraine’ have also brought their input in the discussions.
Overall, the event aimed to gather at the table the most relevant actors concerned by the current situation of Ukrainian children, result of the recent conflict the country has been going through. NGOs were heard in their testimonies from the field, numbers and evidences were advanced to best illustrate the numerous violations of child rights suffered by more than 1.7 million children since the conflict started. Accordingly, the collected data – which merely scratches the surface of the reality – show that children in Ukraine are facing family separation, institutionalisation, displacement, physical and psychological traumas and diseases. The Ukrainian child-focused coalition argued that children are even directly exposed to mine risks: since March 2014, at least 109 children were wounded by the weapon remains and 42 children were killed. Moreover, children have been constantly involved in the war, sometimes even as combatants.
In response, the EU representatives emphasized their continuous support for the Ukrainian cause, reminding both the past and the on-going efforts – in terms of funding and in terms of humanitarian aid – the EU and the EU member states have been giving to Ukraine. The amount of 42.4 million euros represents the humanitarian aid given by the EU itself, without the separate contributions of the Member States. Nonetheless, everybody at the table agreed that Ukraine needs more help from the EU and that more can be done to minimise the vulnerabilities children are facing in the affected areas.
The fact that Ukraine has signed an Association Agreement with the EU places the country in a tighter partnership with the Europeans. However, the top priorities on the EU-Ukrainian cooperation agenda are not the social issues, but reforms linked to the public administration restructuring, to improvements in the judiciary system, to anti-corruption and to decentralisation. Thus, any concern regarding social reforms in Ukraine need to be advanced in line with and according to the economic priorities of the two partners.
The Ukrainian child-focused coalition, Children Rights in Ukraine, insisted that the conflict has amplified the vulnerabilities the Ukrainian children are subject to. Nonetheless, the coalition emphasised that the existing legal frameworks regulating the implementation of child rights in Ukraine have already been insufficient in practice – prior to the conflict – due to the following reasons: (1) there is a systemic lack of pro-active attitudes, approaches and methods towards child rights issues, at national level; (2) there is no single focal point in the government to be responsible with the observation of child rights while inter-sector cоoperation is not consistently organized; (3) the work instruments are outdated and are not adapted to the current situation of vulnerable children – thus, these instruments remain ineffective and do not lead to results; (4) the legislation regulating child rights employs a declarative discourse and does not put in place the necessary mechanisms for the implementation of its provisions; (5) the institutions and the actors dealing with child rights issues are severely underfunded.
Accordingly, the recommendations of the Ukrainian coalition were that the EU should put pressure on the Ukrainian government to systemically reform its child protection system, not only because of the war atrocities children are exposed to, but because children in Ukraine deserve to be protected and have their rights respected on a regular basis – which has not been the case even before the conflict started. Child Rights in Ukraine insisted on the following: (1) The Ukrainian legislation must be brought in line with the child rights international standards, with a specific focus regarding the prohibition of child participation in the military conflict; (2) A comprehensive program to respond to all child rights violations needs to be developed. This program also needs to address the issues of children affected by conflict and to the internally displaced children, while ensuring the respect of the rights of every child. Furthermore, it needs to strengthen the monitoring of a child’s right to life, security, education, psychological and medical assistance; (3) A new National Action Plan for child protection needs to be developed, aiming to implement the previsions of the UN Convention for the Right of the Child. This Action Plan should be elaborated in cooperation with civil society organizations. The Action Plan should also envisage that adequate funding is allocated for its implementation; (4) The Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention for the Right of the Child on the Communications Procedure needs to be ratified by Ukraine.
Here you can read more about the situation of children in Ukraine and the solutions that can be brought to ensure their well-being in the full written contribution of the Ukrainian child-focused coalition.