News

One million European children looking for home

One million European children looking for home

2013. 11. 06.

MEP Ádám Kósa (Fidesz) hosted a conference today in the European Parliament on the tragedies and depressing human rights issues of children living in overcrowded institutions. The conference took place just two weeks before the new Structural Fund Regulations will be tabled in the European Parliament, whose proposals – among others – aim to replace these obsolete institutions by community based services. As was revealed on the debate, only a minor part of children living in such facilities are actually orphans.

Co-organizer of the event was Lumos, a civil society organisation founded by the bestseller author JK Rowling that fights against the systematic institutionalisation of children. The event was the opening of a one year long campaign called “From the Kennedy Law to the Berlin Wall: Ending the Institutionalization of Children”. It marks the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Law in the United States which is a seminal piece of legislation that heralded the end of the practice of institutionalising children in the USA. It is also a remembrance of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was a key event that sparked the same process in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly following significant media coverage of the harm caused by interring children in orphanages in the former Soviet bloc countries.

Lumos CEO Georgette Mulheir, who has extensive experience of working on de-institutionalisation programmes in Central and Eastern Europe explained that in the Eastern parts of Europe it was habitual to place children of anti-regime families into big, residential facilities during the communist era. “The emotional isolation, the regimented, harsh environment and the lack of care means they are not often prepared for life and are exposed to every kind of abuse possible” – she emphasised.

EPP Group MEP Ádám Kósa stressed out that children with disabilities are over-represented in large residential facilities, thus the violation of human rights are more visible in their case. MEP Kósa emphasized: “We must bring this practice to an end and provide all possible support to ensure that children can be raised in their own families or, where this is not possible, support better adoption services, especially in a modern world in which more and more couples cannot have their own children”. He also highlighted that the European Union has the position and the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of millions of disadvantaged children particularly in providing financial support to Member States to invest in care systems that keep children with, rather than separated from their families or possible, new caring families.

László Lovászy, the first hearing impaired expert in the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the United Nations who has a Ph.D. explained that based on the World Bank's 2011 Report, eliminating divided ministerial responsibilities might be a key to a better governance and legislation in the field of de-institutionalization. "Double funding of institutional and community systems is indeed necessary in the beginning as these big institutions cannot be closed down one day to the other sending away the residents. Therefore this shall be a working approach based on a long-term commitment and strategy" – László Lovászy added.

The Extraordinary Representative of the US Ambassador to Brussels delivered a speech on the event, while experts of the European Commission and the UNICEF reviewed the process of closing down big residential institutions by showing numerous good examples from all around the world including Hungary. Charlina Vitcheva, a Director in the European Commission's regional policy department pointed out that Hungary is very well progressed in closing down big residental institutions although the EU hasn’t obliged the Member States to do so yet. Along with the representatives of organisations dealing with child protection and protection of rights of children with disabilities, the concerned also had the opportunity to participate. Children and youngsters living with disabilites explained ther own stories, how much better it is to live in a family after a crowded residental facility.

Background: Every child has the right to grow up in a family and benefit from adequate education and healthcare (Convention on the Rights of the rights of the Child, articles 18, 24 and 28), like take part in the life his own community and not to live isolated (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities articles 7, 19, 23).