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Indifference may ruin lives: Children who No one Helps

© UNICEF Ukraine/2011 M.Koryshov
A boy paints a piece of pottery in a detention facility

Sasha committed a crime and now serves his sentence in a detention facility.

The boy came from an ordinary family and went to an ordinary school. Life in a small northern Ukrainian town was ordinary too. Only Sasha was unusual – too active, too noisy. He couldn’t sit for long during lessons and often got distracted. His parents were frequently called to school and urged to “influence the child.” They did – beating their child to calm him down and make him more diligent. Eventually, Sasha left school and the teachers said: “He can’t study. He doesn’t memorize things and doesn’t want to read.” Local psychiatrist said: “Just work on his character. The boy is ok”.

The streets accepted Sasha and that was where he finally felt at home. All the people around him understood him perfectly. Cigarettes, vodka, weed all helped him to feel free for the first time. Needing money, he also stole for the first time.
Sasha was taken to the police station several times and that made him feel like a leader, a brave one. Once, he and his friends saw a very good scooter that was parked near a house. They wanted to try to ride it. His friends talked about it, but it was Sasha who actually started the scooter and rode away. In the evening, it was found in a ditch near a cemetery outside of town.

The police didn’t have to look for him because he wasn’t hiding. He was tried for a string of delinquencies and the case with the scooter was the final basis for a court ruling.

The irony was hard to swallow: the boy who could not sit still during lessons was forced to sit in a detention facility. However, these things happened in large part because of the scarce attention he received and because of his hyperactivity. A diagnosis that no one saw at the time.

The psychiatrist from that town had never heard of such a condition. No one told the judge who issued the verdict. Neither his parents nor his school teachers knew about it. Sasha needed help – support and treatment, possibly medications. He could have been an absolutely normal kid, a successful one. But the opportunity was lost - Sasha was sent to jail and eventually contracted tuberculosis. He is seventeen now and soon he will be released and brought home. The psychiatrist is unlikely to visit him. Even if he does, he is unlikely to do anything.

© UNICEF Ukraine/2011 M.Koryshov
A boy in a cell in a detention facility

Today, the level of youth criminality in Ukraine is high: each year, approximately 22,000 young people under the age of 18 come into conflict with the law. More than 8,000 youths across the country are sentenced under the Criminal Code of Ukraine, of whom 6,000 received non-custodial sentences. More than 1100 are currently incarcerated in youth colonies.

The stories of each of these children are unique. They have different backgrounds, they come from various regions, but they all share something tragic and painful. The tale of how a child gets convicted may start in a myriad of ways; however, the end is always the same.

Like many other young convicts, Igor lives on the streets. He is fourteen. For about a year the boy was ‘rented’ by two adult ‘apartment’ thieves. His main function was to get into a flat through a ventilating window and to open a front door from the inside. The adult thieves gave him some of the stolen things as a payment for the ‘rent’.

The boy grew up in an oblast centre in the north of Ukraine. His parents are notorious alcoholics. They beat Igor ruthlessly almost every day. He went to school for just a short time; being small, constantly hungry and defenceless, he used to be beaten up there too. Eventually, the boy was kicked out of school and ran away to Kyiv. Now he lives in a ‘flock’ with other children. He steals things and begs for money. Neither a social worker nor a district paediatrician nor a school psychologist has crossed his path in his difficult childhood.

Now the boy is ill; he is losing his strength and his friends feed and hide him from the police. Like any place in Ukraine, the town where the boy lives does not have proper social services for children. District paediatricians are not interested in treating a child’s soul – there is no time for that.

There are thousands of these children in conflict with law in Ukraine. They suffer, but still survive in their dangerous worlds. Their stories might have been quite different had one adult around them not been so indifferent.
* * *

UNICEF in Ukraine is concerned about the increasing numbers of children in conflict and in contact with the law. Together with its partners, UNICEF works on developing and implementing the justice system minors in Ukraine and the recognition of extrajudicial measures and alternatives to custody in addressing youth crime. UNICEF with partners advocates for a fair judicial process and custodial sanctions for minors only as a last resort measures. Deprivation of liberty (including pre-trial detention and custodial sanctions) should only be considered as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate time.

 

 
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