Child protection programme

The current child protection system in Ukraine has several limitations often failing to address key challenges, and the efforts remain fragmented.

Portrait of a child living close to the contact line in eastern Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine/2017/Filippov

The challenge

The following child protection issues remain the major protection challenges in Ukraine:

1.            Children in public care

Despite ongoing efforts to prevent family separation and institutionalization, and the increasing number of ongoing de-institutionalization efforts, in 2017  there were around 106,000 children separated from their families and living in various child-care institutions. Alternative family-oriented care systems remain insufficiently developed, and national “gatekeeping” mechanisms are limited. Although community-based services for vulnerable children and their families are being introduced, they face major social and financial barriers to scaling up.

An increasing proportion of children in state-run residential care institutions and boarding schools have disabilities. Since 2016, the Government introduced a national early intervention initiative to support families of young children with developmental delays and disabilities and prevent their further institutionalization. However, the implementation of this initiative is still slow.

2.            Protecting children from violence, including gender-based violence (GBV)

Violence, abuse, and exploitation have devastating impact on children. threatening their lives and physical health, as well as emotional well-being and future prospects. Violence can pass from one generation to the next, with victims more likely to ‘normalize it’ and later become adult victims or perpetrators. In addition, lack of coordination between health, education, social, legal and other services’ often affects prevention, early identification and response to those cases.

Moreover, Ukraine lacks adequate referral mechanisms for specialized services, especially for children subjected to violence, sexual exploitation or GBV. Furthermore, collection, analysis, dissemination and use of data on violence against children and GBV require improvement.

3.            Justice for children

Improvements in justice for children has led to reduction in the number of children remanded to judicial care. In 2017, Ukraine introduced a cross-sectoral coordination mechanism to develop a comprehensive system of justice for children, including a Law on Justice for Children. However, the justice system still needs adjustment to meet needs and protect the rights of child victims and witnesses, as well as other children in contact with the law.

4.            Children affected by humanitarian situations

Children in eastern Ukraine face multiple protection issues like displacement, exposure to violence including GBV, family separation and psychosocial distress. Thousands of children bear cognitive and emotional scars from frequent traumatic experiences. Moreover, children are often unaware of mine risk, despite mines and other explosive remnants of war being the largest cause of conflict-related death or injury among children. 

All children have the right to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse.


The solution

Protecting children from abandonment, violence and abuse

UNICEF is supporting the Government of Ukraine to keep children and families together, ensure equal access to justice, and prevent violence against children. We aim at  improving  the capability of social welfare, justice, law enforcement and other sectors  to support vulnerable and disadvantaged children and families, with a focus on strengthening the linkages across

Keeping children and families together, promoting alternative family-based solutions and transforming residential care institutions

UNICEF promotes stronger “gatekeeping” measures, such as community services to prevent family separation, pushing for effective child-care systems that wherever possible keep families together and specifically prevent younger children’s institutionalization. We aim to accelerate the country’s childcare system’s transformation into high-quality prevention and alternative family-based care, utilizing newly decentralized decision making and budgeting. We support early identification and intervention services for young children with developmental delays and disabilities; and their families and empower parents to prevent unnecessary separation.

Preventing and addressing violence, including GBV against children

UNICEF supports prevention and response to violence against children, at home, at school, in the community and online. We aim to reduce the number of children affected by violence and GBV and break the silence and stigma surrounding the issue. We ensure:

  • access to psychosocial first aid and follow-up services for women and children affected by GBV in eastern Ukraine;
  • build capacity in professionals working with children and families; and
  • raise caregivers’ awareness of positive and non-violent parenting.

Ensuring access to justice for all children

UNICEF works to promote full access to justice for all children involved in judicial proceedings as victims, witnesses and offenders. We do this by:

  • supporting greater coordination between child protection actors to improve access to justice;
  •  promoting alternatives to incarceration and diversion from the formal justice system;
  • promoting  restorative and social service responses in justice (conflict resolution, mediation and rehabilitation)
  • equipping legislators and law enforcement authorities with skills and knowledge to apply child-friendly justice and develop modern normative frameworks for justice for children.

Humanitarian response

UNICEF provides psychosocial support, mine risk education, mine victim assistance and other protective services to children on both sides of the ‘contact line’ in eastern Ukraine, progressively expanding community-based services to displaced and host communities. We also advocate for the Government to prioritize children and adolescents affected by the conflict and develop long-term solutions to their protection challenges while equipping them with skills and knowledge for social cohesion and resilience. To strengthen community-level social cohesion, UNICEF facilitates communication and collaboration between civil society organizations and government structures to help scale up promising interventions and change harmful social norms.

A conflict-affected girl takes part in a celebration of the International Children's Day in Svyatohirsk, Donetsk region, on 1 June 2016. The event was organized by the Community Protection Center 'Slavic Heart' and supported by UNICEF, Svyatohirsk School and local authorities.


These resources represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region.