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Joint press release

OHCHR, UNICEF launch campaign to protect children, prevent harmful and unnecessary institutionalization

BRUSSELS, 28 June, 2011 - Two UN organisations have called on governments in Europe and Central Asia to put an immediate end to the practice of placing young children into State-run infant homes.

Following the release of two new reports which document violations and abuses of children in state-run homes, OHCHR and UNICEF today launched a campaign to end the practice of sending children under the age of three into state-run institutional care.

The reports revealed that across Europe and Central Asia, including inside the European Union, more than a million children and adults are living in long-term residential care, where they languish -- often for a lifetime.  The reports state that hundreds of thousands of babies with disabilities are routinely placed in state-run homes, severely hampering their development.  Many suffer in appalling conditions.

At a meeting in the European Parliament hosted by Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, the organizations urged governments across the region to make the needs and rights of the youngest children a priority in policymaking, budget allocation and services development, while following international and European standards.  This call to action includes restricting placement of children to short-term emergency measures or a planned stay not exceeding six months – and then only when it is absolutely necessary and in the best interests of the child.

Compelling evidence to support the call is detailed in the reports:

Forgotten Europeans – Forgotten Rights published by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) outlines international and European human rights standards relevant to the situation of persons in institutions (institutional care, deinstitutionalization and alternative care); and

At Home or in a Home – Formal care and adoption of children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, published by UNICEF provides an overview of the major trends and concerns about children in formal care and institutions as well as adoption in 21 countries and one entity in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including Romania and Bulgaria.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake urged Governments in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia to reform child welfare policies that undermine children’s rights and wellbeing.  “Children belong where their best interests are met – in loving, caring homes, not in institutions where we know they all too often receive substandard care,” said Lake.  “We need to support initiatives that help families stay together by increasing their access to social services – and governments need to invest in building stronger social protection systems that reach the most vulnerable families and most disadvantaged communities."

Jan Jarab, Regional Representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Regional Office for Europe said, “Many Central and Eastern European countries have largely maintained the system of large-scale residential institutions for children of all ages.  Placement of children into institutions -- including those under 3 years of age -- is still the society’s main response to disability, poverty or perceived lack of parental skills rather than a measure of protection from individual abuse, from which these societies often fail to protect children.  Those CEE countries which are members of the EU should stop using the European Structural Funds to reinforce their child care systems in their current form. They should instead use the Funds to launch fundamental reform of their systems of child protection and care”.

UNICEF’s Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Steven Allen, described children living in institutional care, particularly those with disabilities, as among the most vulnerable and stigmatised. The region has the highest number of children in the residential care in the world at around 600,000.

“Twenty years after the shocking media reports in Romania, little has changed. Nearly 60 percent of children with disabilities remain in state care, often in deplorable conditions,” said Steven Allen UNICEF’s Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. “When many in the region are debating on how to increase birth rates, investing more in child-friendly services, supporting parents in their care giving role and help children who were already born to develop their full potential is right in principle and in practice.”

Two international legal frameworks recently adopted, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2010), and the United Nations Guidelines on the Alternative care of Children (2009), have reinforced the obligation of States to develop community based alternatives to residential care and prevent institutionalisation. Romania and Serbia are the only two countries in the region which have approved laws to prevent infants being sent into residential care. In the case of Serbia this includes children under three years of age while in Romania the law prohibits placement for children under two year.

For more information, please contact:

OHCHR, Regional Representative Jan Jařab, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Regional Office for Europe
Tel + 32 227 40170,

UNICEF CEECIS Regional Communication Chief, John Budd,
Tel + 41 22 909 5429,




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