Ukrainian children’s rights under spotlight at Free the Children Conference

Ukrainian children’s rights under spotlight at Free the Children Conference. (Photo by PETER LAZAR / AFP)

Ukrainian children’s rights under spotlight at Free the Children Conference. (Photo by PETER LAZAR / AFP)

Published Mar 23, 2024


With more than 2000 hours of air raid alarms since the start of the war in Ukraine and many reports of human rights violations against children, various children’s rights experts sounded a call against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against children.

Ukrainian ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, said: “Just imagine waking up and packing kids every time during an air alarm to go to a shelter a few blocks from home. These things the world is ‘tired of’ are a daily hell for Ukrainians under Russian bombs.”

This week, ahead of Human Rights Day, various local and international human and children’s rights experts who gathered at the Nirox Sculpture Park in Krugersdorp pledged their support for the rights of Ukrainian children amid reports of forced deportation by the Russian government.

Reports say more than 19 500 children have been abducted from their homes in Ukraine and taken to Russia.

According to various Ukraine human rights organisations, the situation remains dire as some of the children are said to have been kidnapped while scores of other children are being indoctrinated and forced to speak Russian at the expense of their own language and culture.

Dzvinka Kachur from the Cape Town-based Ukrainian Association of South Africa said the Ukrainian situation was dire as the war resulted in the displacement of more than 20 000 children.

“Children are forced to stay in bomb shelters in the middle of the night and two times during the day. They get to witness bombing and destruction of more than 1 000 schools in the last two years since the start of the war. This has a direct impact on their daily activities, including school. What is worse is that Russia is trying to turn Ukrainian children into Russian citizens,” Kachur said.

Azad Safarov, founder of Voices of Children, a Ukrainian NGO that supports traumatised children, including those who have been deported and repatriated, said children were being forced to adopt Russian as their language at the expense of their own language by Russian agents acting on Putin’s instructions. She said what was happening to Ukrainian children contravened international laws.

“Children have come to us with the most horrific stories of their time as kidnap victims in Russia. Their Russian ‘guardians’ forced them to change their names, beat them if they spoke their native Ukrainian language, and told them that their families in Ukraine didn’t want them. All this was intended to make the kids forget who they are. Russia wants to wipe Ukraine and Ukrainians out of existence,” Safarov said.

Amina Mwaikambo, a psychologist with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, urged mental health practitioners to lend a helping hand in Ukraine and other war torn countries, adding that war trauma was more complex than ordinary trauma as it had far a reaching impact on the psyche of victims, especially of displaced children.

“A person who is forcefully displaced has the trauma of the actual violence and now they have additional trauma because now they find themselves without any place of safety and having to travel from one country to another,” Mwaikambo said.

“When children experience conflict it is centred on adults and there is that destruction of their world when you are at the age of four to seven, you are still trying to understand a world that is safe and predictable and when these big thing happens it fragments this perfect world,” Mwaikambo said.

Saturday Star

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