No one knows exactly
how many children are in residential placements
in Europe and Central Asia. The best estimates
put the figure at around 1 million, but
different standards and methods of compiling
data make comparisons between countries
And the classic picture
of the child who has lost his or her parents
and lives in a children’s home is
far from accurate. There are all sorts
of reasons why children find themselves
in a residential facility: their parents
may be ill or temporarily unable to look
after them, they may be the children of
asylum-seekers, they might be held in
police custody or prison, or they may
have learning and physical disabilities.
Lack of data makes it
difficult to assess the extent that children
face violence in institutions, but increasing
evidence of abuses and reports by child-care
organizations are raising concerns that
children – doubly vulnerable because
they are alone in a strange environment
– are clearly at risk. And according
to the background paper for consideration
at the Consultation, “… from
the United Kingdom to Uzbekistan, abuse
of one form or another is taking place
on a significant scale”.
- Cases of abuse in institutions
have come to light all over the region.
Ongoing investigations in Ireland and
Portugal testify to sexual, physical and
mental abuse over decades: in Ireland,
the Government-established Commission
to Inquire into Child Abuse received 3,000
complaints, 60 per cent of them from people
over 50 who had been abused as children
in residential care.
- In Belgium, the Czech Republic, France,
Kyrgyzstan and Moldova there is no explicit
ban on corporal punishment in institutions.
- According to NGO reports on the situation
of children’s rights, 80 per cent
of children in boarding schools are treated
cruelly in Kazakhstan, while in Albania
orphans are reported to “often become
victims of physical abuse”.
- Residential homes are often inadequate,
unhygienic with poor heating and a lack
of nutritious food.
- Much violence takes place amongst children
themselves. A UK study on violence amongst
children in residential care shows that
half of the reported cases were between
children including high-impact physical
violence, such as knife attacks to kicks
and punches, half were non-contact, such
as vandalism and threats.
- Young people are often kept in custody
with adults: according to the German National
Coalition for the Implementation of the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,
there is evidence of threat, blackmail
and even rape. The Council of Europe’s
Anti-Torture Committee? noted that custodial
staff have been seen to punch, kick or
hit young people with batons in Croatia.
- There is evidence of police officers
ill-treating children and young people
in police custody in Albania, France,
Georgia, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine
- Children from ethnic minorities are
over-represented in care and custody.
According to the World Bank, as many as
40 per cent of institutionalized children
in Romania are Roma, even though Roma
account for just 10 per cent of the overall
What is being done?
The UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child puts governments
firmly in charge of protecting children
in care and bans the arbitrary imprisonment
of children. It also stipulates that children
should be treated sensitively and separated
from adults in custody.
The Council of Europe’s
Committee of Ministers has adopted a recommendation
setting out children’s rights in
residential institutions, including the
right to a non-violent upbringing.
The European Union has
passed a directive that child asylum-seekers
be placed with adult relatives, a foster
family or specially-designed centres in
order to ensure their protection.
The Council of Europe’s
Anti-Torture Committee* has a mandate
to inspect places where young people are
An increasing number
of States are recognizing the problems
and are undertaking or allowing investigations
into conditions and concerns about violence
in residential facilities of all kinds.
How do we go forward?
- Ban corporal punishment
and humiliating treatment in institutions
- Set regulations on allowed and banned
forms of discipline and punishment;
- Set basic guidelines on care provision;
- Set up anti-bullying strategies in all
- Screen staff working with children,
but also provide them with proper training
and appropriate working conditions;
- Provide education, recreation, nutritious
food, health care and contact with the
outside world to help stop frustrations
- Ensure that children are in a position
to express concerns or complaints about
their treatment without fear of retribution;
- Develop non-residential alternatives
to care and correction placements.
Alternative Report for
the Situation of Children’s Rights
and the implementation of the Convention
on the Rights of the Child in Albania,
CRCA, ACRN, Tirana, August 2004.
Alternative Report of
Non-Governmental Organizations of Kazakhstan,
The Council of Europe’s
Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment/Inf (2001) 4.
Committee on the Rights
of the Child Concluding Observations on
the 30 countries in the region reviewed
of the National Coalition, National Coalition
for Implementation of the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child in Germany.
Cawson, P., Berridge,
D., Barter, C., and Renold, E., Physical
and Sexual Violence amongst Children in
Residential Settings: Exploring Experiences
and Perspectives, University of Luton
and NSPCC, January 2001.
Tobis, D., Moving from
Residential Institutions to Community-Based
Social Services in Central and Eastern
Europe and the Former Soviet Union, The
World Bank, 2000.
UNHCR, July 2003.