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27 October 2006

The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Juan Miguel Petit, issued the following statement on 27 October 2006:

In my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, I carried out an official visit in Ukraine from 22 to 27 October 2006. I visited the capital city, Kiev and had over 40 meetings and interacted with over 100 persons.

The invitation of the Government to visit the country is very much appreciated considering how new this government is. It is a promising sign of openness and commitment to address human rights and social matters as the one we are discussing today. I thank the Government and in particular the Minister of Family, Youth and Sport for having opened its doors and given me the possibility to meet all relevant public authorities. I also wish to express my gratitude to the United Nations Office in Ukraine, which facilitated the visit and prepared an intense and comprehensive agenda.

During the visit, I had the honour to meet the Ministers of Family, Youth and Sport, of Justice; the Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs and Education and Science. I also met representatives of several Committees of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) related to the issues of my mandate, as well as with judges of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, prosecutors, police officials and city officials. I also had meetings with international organizations, NGOs, academics and researchers and the media. I visited shelters, orphanages and institutions and programmes delivering social services to children and adolescents and victims of trafficking and prostitution.

The first remark I would like to make is that Ukraine is now at a crossroad and in a moment where it will need to build a new model of protection of children’s rights; if not the consequence will seriously affect the future generations. Although the country has undertaken serious efforts in order to comply with the standards set forth in the international and European Conventions relating to the protection of children, much remains to be done. The good news is that we found many persons with motivation and good intentions who need to be encouraged and given the tools and possibilities to implement their ideas and projects.

Everyone agrees that the model of full State control and funding of social and family matters has collapsed with the consequences resulting in the problems we are now experiencing, and taking away any sense of initiative and responsibility to its citizens and actors of civil society. However, the State cannot, on the other extreme, remain unconcerned to the difficulties its citizens are facing. I remain concerned about the assumption many people continue to have that the State has to undertake, control and implement all social policies.

I am of the opinion that the role of the State is to open possibilities and initiatives and generate policies in order to allow concerned actors such as NGOs, international organizations and civil society to contribute and become involved in the protection of children and minors. This plurality of actions will not only ensure a better future for the following generations but also strengthen democracy as a whole. In this sense, it is of utmost importance that NGOs and private initiatives for protection of children’s rights be supported and funded by public funds and not become lost in the bureaucracy of the State and never reach those who are in need. I have found that private organizations working for the protection of children face enormous difficulties and challenges that jeopardize their capacities to reach those who need it, when on the contrary the State should encourage and help these initiatives since all should be working for the same goals.

I have observed that the welfare system of full State control and implementation of social policies have had some positive impacts, for example the subsidies to encourage families to have children, with the policy of subsidies and maternity leave. Also, the numerous orphanages and boarding facilities for orphan or abandoned children ensure the State has ensured protection for the most vulnerable persons in society. However, I have doubts that institutions where 100 to 200 children grow and live together is the best form, since nobody has so many brothers and sisters. This creates a tremendous difficulty for each child when he attends the local school, plays with other children of the neighbourhood and especially when he reaches adult age and goes to live in the outside world. I remain of the opinion that orphanages are anti-natural and artificial institutions and as such should be the of the smaller scale possible as to be able to create an environment where each child can grow and develop the tools that will allow him or her to become a fully integrated adult in tomorrow’s society. The initiatives and experience of private actors and NGOs should be encouraged and the private sector should become involved and play a greater role so as to offer these children career opportunities and training programmes.

During my visit to Ukraine, I have had an excellent impression for the work of the anti-trafficking brigade and of the Interpol brigade of the Ukrainian Police, which has demonstrated very serious competences and effective results. It is encouraging seeing a young generation of qualified and enthusiastic professionals working effectively to combat trafficking or persons and crimes against children and ensuring the responsible persons of this contemporary form of slavery are brought to justice. I was also impressed at the role IOM plays with different local NGOs in the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking.

However I remain concerned at the low rate of prosecution and sentencing of traffickers, authors of child pornography material and other crimes against children and vulnerable persons of society, due in part to a disturbing level of corruption affecting all sectors of Government but particularly the law enforcement and judicial systems. In a young and fragile democracy such as Ukraine this is quite preoccupying and jeopardizes the capacity of the State to address the challenges it is facing. It is of utmost importance public officials realize they are serving the whole community and not private interests and take full responsibility for their public functions.

I have also realized that the absence of a separate juvenile justice system is one of the main institutional gaps that remain to be addressed. The absence of specific public programmes to address the situation of street children, children victims of traffic and prostitution is also of concern. As mentioned earlier, it is also the responsibility of civil society and private actors to play an active role and ensure a better future for tomorrow’s citizens.

Although I realize that in such difficult economic conditions the State’s actions are limited, its programmes and actions can be complemented by the numerous initiatives that are arising from NGOs, private actors and international organizations. Instead of creating unnecessary burdens and bureaucratic paperwork for these welcomed initiatives, the State should realize all are working towards one same goal: to ensure a better future for Ukraine’s children and to protect the innocent victims of these new forms of slavery.

Mr. Petit, a journalist and social scientist from Uruguay, was appointed Special Rapporteur in July 2001 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council’s predecessor. In his capacity as Special Rapporteur, he has carried out field visits in South Africa, France, Brazil, Paraguay, Romania, Albania and Greece. The mandate has since been assumed by the Human Rights Council. On completion of the mission, the Special Rapporteur will prepare a report to be presented at the 4th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2007.