Moscow will be asked to explain at the UN on Monday what has happened to thousands of Ukrainian children believed to have been forcibly sent to Russia since its 2022 invasion.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child -- 18 independent experts -- is set to examine Russia's record over two days, as part of a regular review.

Their lengthy list of concerns was sent to Moscow in the first half of 2023.

They want to know how many children have been "evacuated" to Russia or within Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.

They also want to know what Moscow has done to protect "the right of such children to preserve their identity, including nationality, name and family relations".

Kyiv estimates 20,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly deported to Russia.

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Moscow says it wants to protect these children from the fighting. Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Only around 400 children have so far been repatriated.

"Placements for evacuated children are arranged, first and foremost, at their request and with their consent," Russia said in a written response sent in October and shown to media by the UN on Friday.

It does not specify the total number of children affected, but said they "included children from national residential institutions for orphans and children without parental care (about 2,000 in total)" and children with Ukrainian citizenship.

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Ukraine's Foreign Minister expressed his belief that a just peace in Ukraine aligns with China's strategic interests and stressed the importance of its role as a global force for peace.

It also said that between April 1, 2022 and June 31, 2023, some 46,886 Ukrainian children acquired Russian citizenship.

- Return mechanism idea -

Kateryna Rashevska, a legal expert with the Regional Center for Human Rights, a Ukrainian NGO, hopes the committee will call for an "international legal mechanism" to identify and return the children home.

"Now, the process of returning Ukrainian children is only a very sporadic process", she told AFP.

At the current rate, "we need another 90 years in order to repatriate only already-identified Ukrainian children", she said, urging the UN General Assembly in New York to adopt a resolution creating an international mechanism.

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"The international community is ready to do something but there is a need to do it faster," she said.

Other topics will be raised during the UN committee's review of Russia, with a list of points spanning seven pages.

It wants to quiz the Russian delegation on what Moscow is doing to remove obstacles to children exercising their right to freedom of association and assembly, and to ensure that children are not punished for taking part in demonstrations, particularly against the war in Ukraine.

In a report sent to the UN committee, the NGO Human Rights Watch said it was concerned about children's freedom of expression, their right to freedom of information and discrimination linked to gender identity and sexual orientation.

"Inside Russia, there's a wide range of children's rights issues that one could focus on," said Rachel Denber, deputy director of HRW's Europe and Central Asia division.

"We only focused on three," she told AFP, to demonstrate how the "broader crackdown on rights in Russia has an impact on children's rights as well", noting how children had faced "retaliation" for voicing critical opinions on Russia's war in Ukraine.

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- 'General decline' -

The UN committee also wants to discuss the illegal or arbitrary detention of children, corporal punishment, and measures taken to preserve the cultural and linguistic identity of indigenous children.

The experts also want to know what Moscow is doing to combat certain "harmful practices" in the North Caucasus, such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, abductions for forced marriages and polygamy.

"The region faces specific challenges... all exacerbated by weak legal systems and societal norms," said Grigor Avetisyan, who spent many years in Russia and is now with the Dutch NGO Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.

"The entire region, like the rest of the country, is experiencing... a general decline in human rights conditions," he told AFP.

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