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Important Notice: As of 1 November 2023, Ms. Heba Hagrass (Egypt) has been appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the current Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Ukraine: UN experts sound alarm on situation of children with disabilities.

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Joint Statement by Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children; Cecilia Jimenez-DamarySpecial Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

GENEVA (11 August 2022) – UN human rights experts expressed concern about the situation of children with disabilities in Ukraine placed in institutions and being displaced to other institutional settings either within Ukraine or further afield.

“The current humanitarian crisis stemming from the Russian invasion last February has placed Ukraine in an existential crisis. We deeply appreciate the predicament of Ukraine. Like all conflicts, it is having a disproportionate impact on persons with disabilities especially children with disabilities placed in institutions,” the UN experts said.

“The terrible tragedy of war highlights historic policy choices made in the past that badly affect children with disabilities. Ukraine faces the daunting task of reinventing many of its social and economic systems when this war is finally brought to an end,” the UN experts said. “It is our earnest hope that Ukraine will commit itself to a better future for persons with disabilities, especially children with disabilities. For our part, we stand ready to provide our advice, solidarity and support to Ukraine on this matter”, the experts said.

The experts highlighted three particular sets of concerns. 

Firstly, it was reported that thousands of children with disabilities have been sent back to their families and communities of origin but without appropriate assessment to determine the best interests of the child and child protection considerations, which may have left some of them with untreated physical and mental health conditions. This may have led to children with disabilities being sent to situations of potential risk and abuse and possibly ending up on the streets or in the hands of traffickers or abusers. “We fully understand the exigencies of war and the immediacy of the hard choices to be made. But this is not a situation that can be allowed indefinitely,” the experts said.

Secondly, for those children with disabilities who have remained in institutions, there are allegations of displacement from one institution to another within the country to the detriment of their health and well-being. To the known problems of neglect, abuse, physical restrictions, denial of appropriate stimulation and, access to basic services including education and healthcare in institutional settings, is now added lack of information regarding their whereabouts for their families with few efforts to restore linkages between displaced children and their relatives.

“Cross institutionalisation cannot be a strategy for the future”, the experts said.

Thirdly, Ukraine has seemingly required third countries to receive children with disabilities on condition that they would be placed in institutions, even when those countries have successfully moved away from institutionalisation as a policy response for their own citizens.

“Third countries have a heavy responsibility to assist Ukraine imagine a better future for its citizens with disabilities which include its children,” they said.

The experts further expressed the hope that those who fund reconstruction and future development will decline to invest in institutions and instead assist Ukraine to build community support that will enable children with disabilities to flourish with their families and in family-like situations.

“We strongly reiterate our many previous calls on the Russian Federation to immediately end its aggression against Ukraine and pledge our assistance to assist Ukraine build a better future for its citizens with disabilities,” the experts said.

Read the original statement at the OHCHR portal.