OHCHR and UNICEF: States in Europe and Central Asia should develop community-based alternatives to institutional care

Brussels: On June 28, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launched two reports highlighting the human rights situation of persons in institutions in Europe and Central Asia.

UNICEF reports that more than 626,000 children reside in institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. According to the OHCHR study nearly 1.2 million children and adults with disabilities are living in long-stay residential institutions across the European Union Member States and Turkey.

The OHCHR study, Forgotten Europeans Forgotten Rights outlines international and European human rights standards relevant to the situation of individuals in institutions. The UNICEF study, entitled At Home or in a Home – Formal care and adoption of children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, provides an analysis of data between 1989 to 2007, and an overview of trends and major concerns about formal care and adoption in the region. While acknowledging reforms undertaken in the child care systems of each of the countries of the region, the studies highlight that gaps still remain. At the launch hosted by Irish MEP Mairead McGuiness, the two UN entities emphasized the importance of and need for a shift in attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities, older persons and children deprived of parental care from “objects”, to individuals with the same rights as others to enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Government policies should shift away from institutions towards in-home, residential and other community support services, and tackling the root causes of placement.

“We need to encourage proper budget allocations for supporting vulnerable families through the development of appropriate family-based services,” said Jean-Claude Legrand, Regional Advisor on Child Protection of the UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States. He added: “Resources should be allocated to develop appropriate local services allowing alternative solutions for children under three years of age, with special attention to the needs of children with disabilities.”

Jan Jařab, Regional Representative of the OHCHR Regional Office for Europe, stated: “ Many Central and Eastern European countries have largely maintained the system of large-scale residential institutions for children of all ages. Placement of children in institutions – including those under three 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 abuse, from which these societies often fail to protect children.”

Copies of the OHCHR study can be downloaded here.

28 June 2011

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