How are the rights of the child protected in Ukraine?
Children's Day is a reminder to society of the need to protect the rights of minors, an opportunity to pay attention to the legal problems faced by children. These topics were discussed at the online “How the rights of the child are protected in Ukraine” press conference that took place at the press centre of Ukrinform agency.
“The Ministry of Justice is actively contributing to the process of both protecting the rights of the child and strengthening these rights. We are the initiators and co-authors of draft laws aimed at protecting the rights of the child. These include juvenile-friendly legislation, projects aimed at restorative justice – that is, helping children who have committed an offence and give them a second chance. They also include a draft law that is going to enable children to apply for legal assistance on their own,” said Valeriia Kolomiiets, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine.
The Ministry of Justice and the free legal aid system provide many legal education activities for children. In particular, this year alone, specialists of the free legal aid system conducted more than 1,300 events of this kind, which were adapted for children of various ages.
“For more than 20 years, UNICEF has been supporting the Government of Ukraine to shape better protection policies for children. Together, we have already achieved a lot, in particular, piloting a restorative justice for juveniles in conflict with the law, adjusting legislation for children to bring it into line with international standards, and moving forward with ongoing child welfare reforms and inclusive education,” highlighted Laura Bill, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Ukraine.
One of the projects implemented in Ukraine with UNICEF participation is the Child-Friendly Cities initiative. In addition, the Inter-Agency Coordination Council on Justice for Children, established at the initiative of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine in cooperation with UNICEF, is in its third consecutive year of operation.
“But despite the progress that has been made, hundreds of thousands of children, especially the most vulnerable, are still being left behind. We must act on the promise made thirty years ago by States ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to accelerate the progress already made and develop new solutions to translate rights into realities. And most importantly, we must listen to children and young people themselves, who are calling for this change,” underlined Laura Bill
Cooperation between public authorities, partners and NGOs is critical for protection of the rights of the child. It provides an opportunity to create and implement important initiatives. For example, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, in cooperation with the UNICEF in Ukraine, the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid, the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine released a Cyberdog chatbot that will explain what to do in cases of cyberbullying to children, parents and teachers. The chatbot is the first step towards creating a comprehensive tool to protect children from cyberbullying and offering comprehensive services to those who complain about cyberbullying materials.
“The internet offers many wonderful opportunities for our children – from learning to entertainment – but it also makes them more vulnerable and open to threats such as cyberbullying, harmful online content, and sexual exploitation. Therefore, the priority of the Ministry of Digital Transformation is the safety of the child in the digital environment,” said Gulsanna Mamediieva, Director General of the Directorate for Strategic Planning and European Integration of the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine.
The system for free legal aid – in cooperation with public authorities, NGOs and international partners – is implementing a number of projects in the field of protection of the rights of the child. One of these is the restorative justice programme for juveniles who are suspected of committing crimes.
“Last year, a pilot project on restorative justice was implemented in six oblasts. This year, it has been up-scaled to all the other oblasts of Ukraine. Successful completion of the juvenile restorative justice programme is a ground for releasing a child from criminal liability. Positive court decisions have already been made to release more than 60 children from criminal liability. The same number of cases are pending in the courts,” noted Oleksandr Baranov, acting Director of the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid.
With the expansion of restorative justice to all the regions, the need for mediators is growing. The Coordination Centre has announced a call for lawyers who provide free secondary legal aid to take part in the training and engage in the restorative justice programme. The training will be supported by UNICEF, and by experts from the Institute for Peace and Common Ground.
“We are continuing to work with children. The free legal aid system has created its own PravoTok channel in the TikTok app. It features short mobile video spots about the rights of the child. Human rights start with the rights of the child. This is an indisputable truth. It is much more difficult for children to defend their rights than for adults. That is why the system of free legal aid is always ready to come to the rescue to every child at any moment,” Oleksandr Baranov emphasized.
Yet another project aimed at protecting the rights of the child is the development of a juvenile probation system in Ukraine. This is an opportunity for minors who have come into conflict with the law to start new lives and become fully fledged members of society. While in 2009, there were 2,000 imprisoned children in penitentiary institutions, today the number is only about 100.
“Probation involves the use of various rehabilitation programmes. In the 11 years that we have been implementing probation projects, we have seen recidivism rates drop from 63 per cent to about 2 per cent. The success of the programmes was due to the fact that the children were not sent to serve their sentences in institutions, but stayed in the community while we tried to work with them individually,” said Tawnia Sanford Ammar, SURGe project manager, Agriteam Canada Consulting Ltd Country Director for Ukraine, Adviser to the Minister of Justice of Ukraine.
Another group of children who need special attention are children in boarding schools. After all, today there are about 100,000 children in the schools, of whom about 95 per cent are not orphaned but have biological parents. That is, the children were sent to boarding schools by their parents because of poverty or other disadvantaged circumstances.
“We must concentrate all the efforts of our partners and the public authorities on the development of services in communities that will fully meet the real needs of children and their families. Such protection, such support should be a key element of preventing placement of children in boarding schools. No professional educator, no well-equipped institution will ever be able to replace a real loving family,” said Director Tawnia Sanford Ammar.
The participants at the press conference answered questions about several issues, including joint custody of parents over children; cases of abduction of children by one of the parents for the purpose of deportation; and the benefits that internally displaced children can count on when entering higher education institutions.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.