#CrossborderChildhood: It’s Time to Protect Migrant Children’s Rights in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

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Tomorrow, 1 June, many former Soviet countries celebrate International Children’s Day. To mark this day, FIDH supports and highlights the remarkable initiative of Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial (ADC), one of its member organizations. ADC has launched a campaign advocating for the rights of children on the move in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

→ Visit the website and participate on social media with the hashtag #CrossborderChildhood.

Hundreds of children, whether traveling alone or accompanied by parents, become stranded each year in former Soviet countries. The law, however, often works against them, rather than protecting them. Due to placement in detention centers, many children are forced to live in prison-like conditions, unable to go to school or receive visitors, and may be separated from their parents.

ADC’s staff were able to witness this firsthand by visiting several detention centers where migrant children are detained.

“The placement of children in closed institutions, often behind bars, without a right to visits or education, causes these children great stress and threatens their psychological and physical well-being.”

Stephania Kulaeva, ADC Memorial's director

ADC’s #CrossborderChildhood website and social media campaign shed light on this issue and call for change. The outdated 2002 Chisinau Agreement between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)—a regional intergovernmental organization of ten post-Soviet republics— governs cooperation on the return of minors to their state of residence, stipulating that they return to their countries of origin via so called “transit institutions.” In reality, these institutions are de facto detention centers which allow for grave violations of international standards on protection of children.

Periods of detention can last from a few hours to several months or years. One case involving a Moldovan girl in Russia illustrates the failures of the current system and the urgent need for new international treaties:

A 14-year-old girl from Moldova who had been subjected to violence and sexual exploitation was found during a raid on a den of “a mafia of beggars” that exploited disabled people by pretending to be veterans of military conflicts. Nothing was known of the girl’s family. She was taken to a transit institution and attempts were made to send her back to Moldova. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reception center listed in the Chisinau Agreement no longer exists in Moldova, meaning that the child’s return required other international treaties and practices. The girl has been held for an extended time in a closed Russian transit institution that does not provide for rehabilitation or a school education. If she returns home, she faces the real risk that she will end up with the very same relatives who sold her into slavery.

On its website, ADC explains the serious issues with this status quo—from children’s deprivation of education to separation from their parents—and sets out guidelines for how new treaties could better protect the rights of these children. The organization urges the adoption of more effective bilateral or multilateral agreements in line with modern international legal standards, thus replacing the antiquated Chisinau Agreement. For example, in 2017, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of the Families and the Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a Joint General Comment stating:

“All children involved in or affected by international migration are entitled to the enjoyment of their rights, (…) This principle is fully applicable to every child and his or her parents, regardless of the reason for moving, whether the child is accompanied or unaccompanied, on the move or otherwise settled, documented or undocumented or with any other status.”

ADC defends the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups in former Soviet countries, including Roma, LGBTI people and migrant workers. Initially based in Saint Petersburg, Russia, it was forced to relocate to Brussels in 2014 after having been designated as a “foreign agent” as part of a wave of anti-democracy laws passed since 2012. The organization continues its crucial work from abroad.

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