- How comfortable and safe is it to be a child in Ukraine?
- Ukraine is one of the countries with high enough level of children's protection. Our children infrastructure is developing rapidly, we have one of the highest levels of pediatrics in Europe, as well as improved legislation, protecting children's rights.
Moreover, some countries use Ukraine's experience in the sphere of children's rights protection. In general, it is comfortable and safe enough to be a child in Ukraine.
We have conducted a large social survey among four thousand children of different age categories and social groups. In response to the question how life in Ukraine is, the majority of the respondents said it is good.
At the same time, all mentioned above does not mean that children's rights are not being violated. Only reforms and more attention from the authorities can change the situation. For this the President has ordered to form an Institute of children ombudsman. Children ombudsman must respond to every complaint, filed by a child, to monitor decisions and actions of the central and local authorities, to follow the observance of children legislation and in case to necessity to initiate amendments to it.
- Ukraine already has a human's right commissioner. Why do we need another ombudsman?
- Two separated institutions on human's rights and children's right function in 72 countries. It's not a Ukrainian know-how. The system on children protection has its specifications. All adults were children once, but not all children are destined to become adults. Our task is to secure this development, so a child has a chance to grow up. Not always children can express their position or report a violation of their rights. Children do not vote, hence cannot choose authorities. Children cannot manifest their dissatisfaction and to take part in a protest action, like adults do. That's why every developed country has a separate institute for children's rights protection.
For the moment we receive information on children's rights violation through official inquiries, by phone, by Facebook and through the media.
- What instruments of influence do you have?
- The main instruments are provided by the legislation. For example, President's aid on children's rights may visit children's institutions, including detention facilities, to inspect the maintaining conditions and to interview minors. My department can also request and get documents of limited access. We have conducted thousands of interviews and held thousands of inspections. Personally, I have visited about 250 children institutions, including family homes, hospitals, schools, dormitories and detention facilities.
- What children's rights are usually violated?
- I can speak about it for hours...In short, the violations of children's rights can be classified in three levels: family, society and state.
Take for example medicine. Despite the high level of pediatrics I talked about before, there are still problems. Hospitals have worn-out equipment, the amount of medicine is not sufficient, some children departments have such uncomfortable beds, that children may get hurt. I don't speak about mattresses and bed sheets...We initiate now the program on technical modernization of children hospitals.
The most violated right is the right to be heard. When a child cannot complain it can become dangerous. Children are very radical, and a problem they believe is catastrophic can push them to commit inadequate actions - crime, runaway, sometimes suicide. Besides, adults often ignore opinions of children.
Every fourth complain concerns the failure to pay alimonies - there are about 16 thousand persistent non-payers in Ukraine. Then go conflicts on child's residence, when parents are divorcing. There is a problem of kidnapping by one of the parents. Sometimes they try to leave the country. In this case everything depends of how fast the court issues a decision: in Europe it may be dome within six hours, while here it takes months.
There are also many complaints against local authorities regarding financial assistance, when payments do not come or delayed. Another problem we have to deal with is observance of rights of the children with special needs, as their rights for proper medical assistance and education are often ignored.
- We've heard there is a problem with treatment for children suffering rare diseases, epilepsy and autism, as well as with medical assistance to children with infantile cerebral paralysis. What do you do to help these children?
- The President has instructed to work out a special program on this issue to secure medical assistance to 100% of such children.
Unfortunately, the state budget financing does not meet the real needs. In particular, the budget has allocated only 25% of the needed financing for treating Gaucher disease, only 37% for treating renal disease, and only 10% for treating primary immunodeficiency. Child oncology and oncohematology is financed by only 45%. Expenses for such diseases as autism, epilepsy, mucopolysaccharidosis are not provided at all.
We've sent a request to the Health Ministry and hope our calculations will be taken into account in further amendments of the state budget.
Another problem, which people do not like to speak loud, is psychological condition of children. Every fifth child in Ukraine needs assistance of a psychiatrist. IN this respect we insist on reformation of the mental health protection system. Within this program the children departments of psychiatric assistance should be separated from the institutions for adults. Such children departments should be integrated into the common children hospitals. In additional, psychiatric assistance should be available at place of residence.
- What do you think about prohibition for parents to stay in hospitals with children over six years old?
- This is direct violation of children's rights to parental care. We urge to adopt relevant amendments to cancel this unfair norm.
- What is the situation in orphanages for children with special needs?
- Awful, especial for children with special needs. Such institutions limit the children's freedom, like in a detention facility or psychiatric hospital. The children's rights are restricted, but those little men did not do anything wrong to be punished so severely. The children's right to education is also violated. Not every institution for children's with special needs has a pedagogue. And what is the most unfair is that the financing of such institution is way less than the financing of ordinary orphanages. They have three hryvnias daily for food and 90 kopecks daily for medicine. We have already appealed to the Social Policy Ministry to bring urgent changes.
- What about homeless children, who also need parental care and a home?
- Five-seven years ago the homelessness was a mass phenomenon. Today the situation is different. We no longer have children living in stations, underground passages, dungeons. However, we have a problem of streaming homelessness. Such phenomenon is common for all countries, but in Ukraine we have higher figures. Children run away from homes and orphanages. The goal is not to catch them and to bring back, but learn and understand why they do this. We have to analyze the situation and find a solution, otherwise they will keep running away.
- Traditionally, on the eve the elections politicians start active promotion campaign in schools, giving presents and text books. What do you think about it?
- It is a way to reach parents through their children. But believe me, children forget such things very fast. It is impossible to bring up a generation of future voters, who would be programmed to vote for this or that politician. In general, adults do not have a right ti use children for any personal goals, be they political or social.
- The press publishes a lot of information about mass children abuse in the Ukrainian society. What is the real situation?
- The number of appeals grows with every passing month. Children complain about educational institutions, parents, even police.
I want to remind the parents, teachers, officials and law enforcement officers - physical and psychological violence is forbidden! You cannot beat or humiliate children!
– You often speak about excessive harshness of judges towards juvenile delinquents…
- I do not pay lip-service. I air the real facts of inadequate punishment. There are a lot of cases, when a minor was sentenced to 4-6 years of imprisonment for a stolen mobile phone. It is a mere training of the professional criminals at the state’s cost! The good thing is now we have the new Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP), which stipulates the lawful process over juveniles in a more humane way and raises the level of responsibility of the law enforcement agencies for a minor’s destiny. In particular, it provides for introduction of a position of the special investigator on minors’ cases and formation of the courts engaged only in the minors’ cases. The similar position is to be introduced for the prosecutors as well.
Moreover, the new CCP excludes the number of norms discriminating the minors, specifies the notion of a “minor” itself, excludes the case of pre-trial detention of the minors together with adults in one ward, prohibits the face-to-face interrogation involving a minor. A prosecutor is endowed with the right to lodge a civil suit on behalf of a minor. Meanwhile a minor gets an opportunity to be interrogated outside the court.
You see, the minors do not violate the law “bearing malice”, using professional terms. They have other reasons for violation. Someone was incited to, someone dared doing that as his parents could not afford buying him something. So we need not to imprison them but to search for the original cause. In this, not the total control but support and care will help us.
- Tell us please about the juvenile justice. What is it and want for? Some say that it is a justification of reporting the parents.
- Horror stories about the juvenile justice are groundless. This kind of justice has nothing to do with the Family Code or with the procedures on deprivation of parental rights. This juvenile justice was created in Ukraine in 19th century and concerns two categories of children - those who committed a crime or victims and witnesses to a crime.
In many cases children commit crimes because of adults, who taught, pushed, provoked or did not stop. A child can be saved without imprisonment. But of course it is more complicated process than simple locking in a penal colony. For minor crimes children should get legal punishment in order not to bear the brand of the record. And for the repeated crime it is adults (parents, school, police, social workers) who must bear responsibility.
The civilized world has the so-called meditation system, when a judge calls for both a violator and a victim to hold face-to-face talks in order to solve the conflict peacefully. In this case a child faces less severe punishment if a crime is not grave. After that the authorized officials should control a child to prevent repeated crimes.
- There is an opinion that the juvenile justice contradicts the Christianity, as violates the commandment "Honor thy father and thy mother"...
- It is not true. If you recall a passage from the Gospel According to St. Luke, you will recognize the idea to put a child's status on a higher level. Christianity stands for respect to parents, but also considers childhood as a value. The doctrine stipulates for the main principles of children's rights protection. The one of them says "those who the smallest among us are the biggest".
I am convinced that the Church must encourage humane justice towards children, so that the society does not brand those who take a wrong step, but teaches and helps.
- Today is the international Children Protection Day. What do want to wish Ukrainians on this day?
- I want to wish the working parents that children are the most important, and the care cannot be measured by money. I want to thank all those who stand for children's rights. I want to say thank you to teachers, doctors, social workers for their care, love and respect towards children.
I wish every adult to remain a loving parent. I wish officials to understand that their decisions effect not the paper and statistics, but a small Ukrainians. Look for the results of your work not in reports but in children's eyes.
And the most important - adults, please listen to your children.
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