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Teenager advocates for child-care reform at regional forum in Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF video
Maftuna, 15, an orphan who has known both homelessness and institutionalization, addresses delegates at the Forum on Child Protection in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

By Galina Solodunova

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, 14 May 2009 – Maftuna, now 15, was only four years old when her mother died, but she remembers many things from her childhood.

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“I remember the names,” she said. “My mother’s name was Lena. My granny’s name was Nina. I remember the place we lived. I remember how my mother died. She quarreled with my father and they left in a car, which crashed.”

Maftuna is one of many children in Kyrgyzstan who have suffered from the weaknesses of the country’s child protection system, which has ignored or been unable to protect young people like her from abuse and discrimination. She was invited to speak at a regional Forum for the Protection of Children held this week in Bishkek.

The regional meeting aimed to help build and reform child-care systems in Central Asia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

‘Better than living in an institution’
At the age of five, Maftuna was adopted from the Belovodski Children’s Home, where she had been placed after the death of her mother. The first thing her stepmother told her was: “We are adopting you to help the family.”

“I had to work a lot. I helped to carry heavy boxes for my aunt, who had a small shop. Still, it was better than living in an institution,” recalled Maftuna.

Nine years later, Maftuna lost her family for a second time when her adoptive parents divorced. She left with her stepfather and soon faced neglect and abuse from her new stepmother. At that point, Maftuna sought helped from child rights organizations. She eventually arrived at the Rehabilitation Centre for Homeless Children in the autumn of 2008.

Video messages by children

At the regional consultation in Bishkek, Maftuna presented a short video about the discrimination she faces at school. She also presented works from other children who come from residential institutions.

The videos were produced at a recent workshop in Kyrgyzstan organized by UNICEF and the non-governmental organization Every Child as part of the ‘OneminutesJr’ youth media project. It was the first OneminutesJr workshop open only to institutionalized, homeless and disabled children.

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2009/Solobennikova
UNICEF Regional Director Steven Allen (far left),and Regional Social and Economic Policy Adviser Gordon Alexander (far right) are joined by two 'OneminuteJr' video producers, Maftuna and Sacha, both 15, at the child-care consultation.

All the videos portrayed a hard life in which children miss their families, feel lonely and abandoned, and are not accepted by the society.

Exclusion is also a problem for children with special needs who live with their own families. In one of the films, a girl with crutches by her side embroiders a piece of cloth, revealing the message: ‘SOS’.

Child Protection Day
Participants in the child-care forum, including ministers from seven Central Asian countries, left with a copy of the whole series of children’s videos.

The head of the NGO My Family, Bernara Musaeva, said she would use the videos at her workshops for parents who are at risk of abandoning their children or have already placed them in a residential care institution. Other participants said they would show the short films on television or use them for upcoming events on Child Protection Day, on 1 June.

In an interview with UN Television, Maftuna said she hoped the videos would help forum participants “not to forget us and our problems.”




12 May 2009: UNICEF’s Mervyn Fletcher reports on the recent child-care reform consultations held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
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