CENTRAL ASIA: In search of new child protection strategies


About 160,000 children in Central Asia were currently being brought up in mainly state-run institutions

BISHKEK, 14 May 2009 (IRIN) - Government officials from five Central Asian countries, Azerbaijan and Turkey have met in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, to discuss ways of improving support for orphans and children in state-run care institutions.

The three-day International Forum on the Protection of Children, which has support from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), was due to end on 14 May.

“The problem is that because of high levels of poverty in the Central Asian countries many parents have to leave their children in state institutions when going abroad in search of a living,” Nurjan Musaeva, head of the Bishkek-based My Family Fund NGO, told IRIN at the forum.

Large numbers of people, especially from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, have been migrating to Russia in search of work over the past few years.

According to Musaeva, in Kyrgyzstan alone there are 62 mainly state-run institutions with over 6,000 children in total, and the numbers are growing rapidly.

“Most of the children are not orphans [in the traditional sense]. They are `social orphans’ - children that have parents de jure,” said Musaeva.

Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Uktomkhan Abdullaeva said the increased number of orphaned children, children without parental custody, neglected children, homeless children, children that were not receiving an education and children that had to work was primarily due to family breakdown.

Such breakdowns are frequently caused by unemployment, depression, alcoholism and other factors, according to local aid workers.

Abdullaeva said the Soviet era system of childhood protection was no longer appropriate and that other solutions had to be found.

More children in institutions

UNICEF figures indicate that in 2006 more children aged 0-17 were in care institutions in Central Asia than in any of the preceding six years.

Whereas in 2000, 608 Central Asian children in every 100,000 were in care institutions, by 2006 this figure had risen to 660, meaning that about 160,000 children in Central Asia were currently being brought up in mainly state-run institutions.

Steven Allen, UNICEF regional director for central and eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, said that in times of economic crisis many parents were simply unable to provide for their children, which meant there was a greater risk more children would end up in care homes.

He said many families were handing over their children to care homes in order to survive.

“For governments in Central Asia - and for Kyrgyzstan in particular - measures aimed at preventing children from becoming separated from their biological families must be the priority,” he said.

Kyrgyzstan should try and turn big state care institutions into smaller ones and/or gradually phase them out. Other options such as children’s family houses, foster families, rehabilitation centres and day-care centres should be pursued, he said.

Meanwhile, UNICEF’s regional adviser on child protection, Jean-Claude Legran, believed there was much scope in Kyrgyzstan for local adoption by relatives or friends. A targeted approach sensitive to individual circumstances needed to be adopted, he said.

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