At least several thousand Ukrainian children forcibly displaced by Russia - HRW

At least several thousand Ukrainian children forcibly displaced by Russia - HRW

The illegal deportation of Ukrainian children by Russia is a war crime, and all deported children must be returned home immediately.

That's according to a report issued by the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), Ukrinform reports.

"There needs to be a concerted international effort to identify and return children who were deported to Russia, and Ukraine and its allies should ensure that all children who were or remain institutionalized are identified and provided with support to live with their families and in communities," said Bill Van Esveld, associate children's rights director at Human Rights Watch.

The report notes that according to the Ukrainian government, Ukraine had more than 105,000 children in residential institutions before Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, the largest number in Europe after Russia. Nearly half were children with disabilities, according to UNICEF.

Human Rights Watch has documented Russia's forcible transfer of children from Ukrainian residential institutions to Russia or Russian-occupied territory: a war crime. Based on Ukrainian government data, 100 institutions that had housed more than 32,000 children before 2022 are in regions under partial or total Russian occupation.

"Statements by Russian authorities, Ukrainian activists and lawyers, and news reports indicate that at least several thousand children have been forcibly transferred to other occupied territories or to Russia," the report reads.

It also states that Russia's parliament changed laws in May 2022 to enable authorities to give Russian nationality to Ukrainian children, facilitating their guardianship and adoption by Russian families in Russia. A Russian adoption website lists children from Ukrainian regions, and Russian officials have said that hundreds of Ukrainian children have been adopted.

"International standards prohibit inter-country adoption during armed conflicts. In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch and 42 other organizations condemned the forcible transfers and adoptions, and called on Russia to grant the United Nations and other impartial agencies access to identify these children, monitor their welfare, and facilitate their return to Ukraine," HRW said.

It stressed that "Russia bears responsibility for the crisis facing these children, but the war adds to the urgency for Ukraine, with support from foreign governments and humanitarian agencies, to stop institutionalizing children and expand family- and community-based care."

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