Keeping families together

UNICEF encourages the Government of Kyrgyzstan to reduce the number of children living in residential care by preventing family separation whenever possible and by seeking alternatives for children in family-based care.

A young mother in turquoise dress holds an infant in her arms
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016/Simon Lister

The сhallenge

The impact of child separation and institutionalization is severe and can last a lifetime. Children placed in institutions are deprived of social, emotional and intellectual stimulation which can hamper the healthy development of a child’s brain. Shut away from mainstream society, these children are also particularly vulnerable to violence, neglect and abuse.

Nothing can replace family for a child

In Kyrgyzstan, a large number of children are deprived of their right to grow up in a family environment. UNICEF research on children in residential care institutions showed that 11,000 children live in 117 residential institutions across the country, among them, 94 per cent have at least one living parent.

In Kyrgyzstan, 94 percent of children in residential institutions have at least one living parent.

In 2016, there were 29,317 children with disabilities registered with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and receiving state benefits, which equates to 1.2 per cent of children in the country. In addition to limited opportunities for children with developmental delays and disabilities to reach their development potential, they are often abandoned, excluded or institutionalized due to widespread stigma and limited access to services, with 29 per cent of all children living in residential institutions having some type of disability.

Recent surveys show that for every three months a child spends in residential care, his or her physical development is lagging behind by one month.

In spite of this, residential care remains the norm, although UNICEF studies show that the resources spent on residential care for children deprived of parental care could be better used to provide services for families or support foster families.

a woman hugs her child
A mother gently kisses her child. Every child needs a family environment to grow and develop to their full potential.

The solution

UNICEF works to keep children with their families wherever possible.

In Kyrgyzstan, UNICEF pushes for effective child-care systems that keep families together wherever possible. Some achievements have been reached through the development of gate keeping mechanisms stipulated in the Child Code of 2012. A positive trend has been observed in the reduction of placements and number of children in residential institutions.

We also work to end child institutionalization. Given the devastating and potentially life-long impact of institutionalization at an early age, UNICEF campaigns for an immediate end to the institutionalization of children under the age of three. The number children placed in infant homes run by the Ministry of Health was reduced by 60 per cent and new entrances to infant homes were reduced by around 30 per cent from 2012 to 2014.

While the referral system to state residential institutions is set up, uncontrolled and unaccredited private institutions that constitute 35.2 per cent of all residential institutions for children still take in children at the request of parents or local authorities. 

Duty bearers often lack the resources and capacity to provide effective counselling and to identify situations of violence, neglect and abandonment where early intervention could help prevent separation.

The main reasons of placement of children in residential institutions in Kyrgyzstan are single parenthood (31 per cent in total, from which 9 per cent are single mothers) and poverty (22 per cent). 

 At the same time, the main reasons for women to abandon their children in maternity are lack of support to raise children. Among the mothers identified as being at risk of abandoning newborns and consulted in maternities, 59 per cent were between 20 and 29 years of age, 30 per cent aged 30 years of age or older, and 4 per cent between 15 and 17 years of age. Of the women aged 30 years of age and older, reportedly 27 per cent abused alcohol. Parents and caregivers, as duty bearers, have limited knowledge on appropriate, positive childcare and rearing practices, and often do not act in the best interest of the child.

The limited capacity of social workers and child protection specialists as well as the high turnover and outflow of human resources, the lack of alternative services, the low budgeting for social services, the weak coordination between various child protection and cross-sectoral stakeholders are but some of the underlying and structural causes of abandonment and placement of children in residential institutions.

Policies and services aimed at identifying and monitoring families at risk of separation and providing preventive counselling/services are critically needed, especially in light of the challenging socio-economic situation in the region. The conditions in residential institutions are of serious concerns as well.

The capacity of social workers was enhanced through the development of a training course on the handling of children and families in difficult life situation was developed with UNICEF support and adopted by the Government.

Furthermore, a training course on the prevention of abandonment of children was developed with UNICEF support and incorporated in the curricula of the training for the staff of maternities by the Ministry of Health.

a family in Kyrgyzstan


These resources represent just a small selection of materials on child protection produced by UNICEF and its partners in Kyrgyzstan. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.

UN Guidelines on alternative care (UN General Assembly Resolution, 2010)

Situation Analysis of Children in the Kyrgyz Republic

Analysis of The Situation of Children’s Residential Institutions in the Kyrgyzstan

Children without parental care

Report on the reasons of child abandonment (UNICEF, 2013)

Ending placement of children under three years in institutions: A call to action (OHCHR, UNICEF CEECIS, 2011)

Booklet for maternity staff and mothers at risk of abandoning their child (UNICEF and Ministry of Health, 2015)

The risk of harm to young children in institutional care (Kevin Brown, Save the children, 2009)

At home or in a home? (UNICEF, CEECIS)