Since Ukraine gained independence, the number of children in the nation decreased by 5 million. But despite their shrinking numbers, the lives of many of Ukraine’s 8.2 million kids remain tough, according to Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Nina Karpacheva.
Karpacheva called a Nov. 20 press conference to give a progress report on the state of the nation’s children. Her remarks were timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
She read a letter from 12-year-old Nastya, describing the abuse some children endure: “I live with my grandparents. My mom died in an accident and I became disabled. Please, protect me from my father. He threw me and mom out before and now he wants me back. He does not pay us alimony.”
Karpacheva said she receives thousands of letters from children seeking help. Some of the children require protection and care; others are living in poverty and have nowhere to turn for help.
The United Nations says that poverty and poor health care are the two biggest problems Ukrainian children face. More than 26 percent of families with one child, 42 percent of families with two children and 77 percent of families with four and more children live in poverty, according to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. In Ukraine, poverty is informally considered to be an income below Hr 1,500 monthly per person.
“Child poverty is chronic and inherited,” Karpacheva said. “And it is scary.” The number of children with physical and mental disabilities, related to poor medical care, appears to be on the rise, she said.
“Child poverty remains very high in Ukraine and it became more acute due to the crisis,” said Yukie Mokuo, a UNICEF representative in Ukraine. “Ukraine needs to continue its reform of the juvenile justice and child health care systems; it needs further improvement of immunization practices, the most effective and easiest way to protect the health of children.”
Not all child-related statistics are grim, fortunately.
Last year more than 50,000 children were born in Ukraine, 20 percent more than in 2004. And this year, Ukraine posted record-breaking birth rates since its 1991 independence. Infant mortality rates have also dropped from 10.4 deaths to 8.9 per 1,000 children under one year of age. This is still high in comparison, however, to many other nations.
Adoption of Ukrainian orphans and children without parental care has increased by 40 percent in three years. In 2008, 2,066 children were adopted, compared to 1,419 in 2005. More than 40 percent of these children find homes outside of the country. Karpacheva said the government should continue with efforts to increase adoptions in Ukraine.
“It is extremely hard to fully track and guarantee the rights of Ukrainian kids abroad, as Ukraine, in all the years of independence, has failed to sign agreements with countries where the majority of adopting families come from,” she added.
A few years ago, American John Krueger had adopted three Ukrainian boys, ages 7 to 11, and molested them for years. He was convicted in 2006.
There are domestic horror stories related to child abuse, trafficking and prostitution, too. According to Interpol, Ukraine’s market of child pornography is worth $100 million. In October, three parliament deputies were implicated in an abuse case. The politically-charged investigation is ongoing.
In the last five years, more than 3,000 people have been convicted of sexual abuse and related crimes against children.
“Seventy-five percent of child pornography is operated through the Internet. Some 750,000 pedophiles in the world are linked to the Internet. About 2 million children in the world get involved in this business every year. Ukraine needs drastic censorship of the Internet space aimed to combat child pornography,” Karpacheva concluded.
Ukraine started attracting more sex tourists after abolishing a visa regime for many European and North American countries. Also, an increasing number of children whose parents work abroad are growing up in other homes.
“There are five to seven million Ukrainians working aboard,” Karpacheva said.
Nataliya Bugayova can be reached at [email protected].
State of the children
Ukraine has 5 million fewer children since 1991 independence;
26.4 percent of families with 1 child, 42 percent of families with 2 children and 76.4 percent of families with 4 and more children live in poverty, defined informally as Hr 1,500 monthly or less per person;
Interpol estimates Ukraine’s child pornography market is worth $100 million;
22.8 per cent of crimes in Ukraine are committed by children;
Each year 10,000 children are convicted of crimes.
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