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30.03.2007

Second generation homeless

   

They know the taste of water from the Dnipro River, and perhaps the only warmth in their life comes from the heating pipes. They eat what we did not finish, they dress in what we no longer want to wear, and a box for them is an everyday necessity – they sleep in it.

According to approximate estimates, there are 100 thousand children in Ukraine living on the streets, and the figure is steadily rising. Members of civic organizations who took part in a roundtable entitled “Does homeless mean without rights?” say that present legislation in this area is ineffective.

There are also not enough people trained to look after such children and the children’s rights committee emphasize that this year there is no specialization for social workers in Ukrainian higher institutes.

In the main these children have parents. They may be drug addicts, alcoholics or have simply become very poor and sold their flats, with the children ending up on the streets. The Kyiv authorities say that the illegal sale of flats has now been stopped, and that the issue of homeless children will soon be totally eliminated through refuges and children’s homes.

However, experts consider that the typical massive scale approach of the authorities, i.e. the attempt to build the largest possible refuges and even whole children’s areas, not only fail to solve the problem, but even sometimes make it worse.

They stress that children don’t want to live in the sort of conditions that are being created for them.

The head of the children’s rights committee, Natalya Maksimova, explains that such a closed environment is not good for children. “There’s nothing good for them here, and on the contrary, they need to be part of a normal environment. They need a normal flat where those same five children will live with three shifts of adults caring for them. At the moment the authorities spend around 10 thousand UH a year on each child in a children’s home. That’s a fair amount, and if a carer received that sort of salary, then we really would have people giving their energy and knowledge to the children, developing professionally and so forth.”

However, at the moment the situation is anything but like that. For example, quite recently near Rivne a huge children’s area was created with family-type buildings, schools, orphanages and rehabilitation centres.

Natalya Maksimova also says that due to changes in licensing brought in by the Ministry of Education, this year not one undergraduate will begin training for the profession of “social worker”, and there is already a shortage of such professionals.

Those participating in the roundtable also pointed out that we are beginning to see “second generation homeless”, i.e. children born to homeless parents. Sometimes their mothers bring them to refuges, and sometimes they exploit them, sending them out to beg.

The authorities are already planning to change legislation and introduce criminal liability for such actions. For the moment, the experts say, Ukrainian legislation on protecting the rights of the child is more often about fine words, than about action.

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