15 000 east Europe kids abandoned annually
22 November 2012, 10:14
Sofia - Fifteen thousand children are abandoned into state care every year in the former Soviet countries of eastern Europe and central Asia, the United Nations Children's Fund said on Wednesday.
"Most countries still rely heavily on institutionalisation... leaving lifelong physical and cognitive scars," Unicef regional director Marie-Pierre Poirier told a conference in Sofia.
"Every hour approximately two young children, mainly babies, are separated from their parents and sent into institutional care in central and eastern Europe and central Asia," she said.
Two decades after the end of communism, 1.3 million under-18s were growing up apart from their families in the 21 countries in the region, according to a new Unicef report presented at the conference.
"These numbers are the highest in the world," it said, describing current childcare systems as a "legacy of the Soviet state policy that... vested in the state the primary responsibility for raising children."
"What we want to do here is to confirm that the challenge remains even if some change has begun," Poirier said, calling for a "change of mentality" that would encourage parents to raise their children instead of leaving them in the hands of the state.
The Sofia conference aims to bring an end to the placement of babies under the age of three in institutions.
Half of the 31 000 babies under three in state care in the region were in Russia, experts said. But Bulgaria had the highest abandonment rate - 654 babies out of every 100 000.
Poverty and the lack of alternative care, especially for handicapped children, were cited by experts as the main reasons behind abandonment.
According to the report, approximately one third of children in state care in the region have some handicap, while in Russia they make up about half of all abandoned children.
Roma minority children are another large group in homes, making up as many as 63% of all abandoned children in Romania.
Adoptive families generally refuse to take in Roma children, the report found.