In the wake of the Russian invasion, the large-scale internal displacement of families in Ukraine has left a precarious situation for children at risk, with reports of forced deportations and illegal adoptions to Russia of particular concern.
More than five million women and children have fled Ukraine since the conflict began on February 24.
According to reports from the Ukrainian authorities, Russia has forced more than 150,000 children to leave eastern Ukraine and enter the Russian adoption system – although it should be noted that these figures are based on limited information about the whereabouts of the children.
‘In violation of international humanitarian law and basic standards of humanity, Russia is participating in state-organised kidnapping of children’The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Russian media reported that Ukrainian children from the Donbass region are being integrated into their adoption system. Russian mediator Maria Lvova Belova stressed the importance of housing these orphans, who may or may not have living parents, with Russian families.
During a meeting of the European Parliament’s Joint Committee Thursday, April 21, Vice President of the European Parliament Ewa Kopacz said that the Russian Parliament is in the process of changing adoption laws to speed up the adoption of these children.
At the meeting, politicians and experts agreed that addressing concerns about the current illegal adoption crisis, including forced deportation and non-registration of refugees, requires a more coherent approach.
“Anarchy is the perfect environment for illegal adoption”said Adrien Vazquez Lazara, chair of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee.
Children at high risk must be identified, they must be allowed into social institutions and legal guardians must be appointed to protect them, said Tony Kovunikolaku, head of the European Network of Children’s Ombudsmen.
Ukrainian institutional system
The most vulnerable children are those who are part of the Ukrainian institutional system, which includes orphanages, boarding schools and children’s homes. About half of those living in residential facilities have a disability, which increases their vulnerability.
The Ukrainian institutional system is different from the system in many other countries, and many children in this system have parents or living relatives, said Anna Krauchak, a researcher specializing in childhood at Warsaw University. However, their status means that they are less likely to travel to the EU as refugees with their families, and are therefore more likely to be separated.
Following media reports of groups of children missing from transport, experts who spoke to parliamentary committees stressed the need for compulsory registration of all children and their legal guardians entering EU member states, as well as some form of verification of the security of arrangements between children and their children. guardians.
At the same time, some are against direct adoption during this period, as it complicates the process of family reunification if the child has surviving parents.
Aaron Greenberg, UNICEF Senior Regional Adviser for Europe and Central Asia, stressed the need to end international adoption during this crisis.
“Adoption is not an appropriate response for unaccompanied and separated children. Children separated from their parents during humanitarian emergencies cannot be considered orphans”Mr. Greenberg said.
He added that the lack of examination of these children and freedom of movement across the border has fueled the crisis of illegal adoption.
European Union and adoption
Currently, there is no European legislation on adoption. Family law falls within the purview of national authorities, which means that the European Union has no jurisdiction in matters of adoption law and its response in this area is limited.
Greenberg said children should be protected through national child care systems, not NGOs and individuals, to ensure accountability.
“We are in a very unique situation where millions of children have crossed borders without knowing if they are in fact in need of care and protection.”Mr. Greenberg said.
In June 2021, the European Council adopted a new scheme to ensure early childhood education and care, health care, nutrition, housing and education, called the European Child Guarantee.
Experts and members of the European Parliament are now arguing that the rights under this framework should be extended to Ukrainian children in EU member states, to allow refugees standardized access to institutions and social protection currently unsecured.
Several parliamentarians agreed to use Child Security funds to protect these vulnerable children from illegal adoption systems by increasing legal protections and rights, rather than relying excessively on NGOs or individuals.