Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.

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© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.

Recommendations

Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
 
Video

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.
 

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

Video

Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan departs after speaking about upcoming changes to the Flores ruling at a news conference at the Reagan Building in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
 
(Washington, DC) – A Trump administration final regulation announced today could result in severe harm to migrant children who may be held in immigration detention indefinitely in the United States. The rule seeks to replace the longstanding Flores court settlement that imposed detention standards and time limits.
 
“The detention of children can lead to trauma, suicidal feelings, and exposure to dangerously inadequate medical care,” said Clara Long, acting deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “No amount of time in detention is safe for children and prolonged detention is particularly harmful.”
 
The core principle and requirement of the Flores Agreement is that migrant children taken into detention should be released as “expeditiously” as possible. The new rule provides instead for the indefinite detention of children with their parents in federal immigration facilities pending resolution of their immigration proceedings. In doing so, it seeks to reverse a ruling under the Flores settlement that children not be held for more than 20 days in facilities not licensed for childcare.
 
During a press conference Wednesday morning, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said average stays in 2014 and 2015 for families in detention leading up to that ruling was 50 days.
 
But many families were held for longer than that during 2014 and 2015, according to Human Rights Watch research from the time. Their prolonged detention took a severe psychological toll on them. Other studies of detained immigrant children have also found high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, and psychologists agree that “even brief detention can cause psychological trauma and induce long-term mental health risks for children.”
 
“The US government claims family detention is needed to ensure families show up to court,” Long said. “But the government has done nothing to expand community-based case management programs that led the vast majority of people released from immigration detention to show up to court. The government should be dramatically scaling up those programs, not looking for ways to ramp up the abusive detention of children.”
 
Human Rights Watch submitted comments on the Flores regulation when they were proposed last fall, recommending that the administration withdraw the rule and instead dedicate their efforts to advancing policies that safeguard the health, safety, and best interests of children and their families, not least through robust, good-faith compliance with the Flores Settlement Agreement.
 
Legal advocates have already filed a notice that they will challenge the rule in court. If not stopped by a judge, the new rule will take effect in 60 days.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In this Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, photo, provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a child colors at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas

© Charles Reed/ US Immigration an Customes Enforcement via AP

Murderous violence. Sexual assault. Criminal gangs. Domestic abuse. Failed governments. Police unwilling or unable to offer protection. These are the reasons child after child gave for coming to the United States in search of safety, as we interviewed them in the US Border Patrol facilities in El Paso, Texas, in June.

Many of the children had plausible claims to asylum that should be seriously considered, and every child had the right to be treated humanely and with dignity. Yet many broke down in tears as they described abuse and severe neglect at the hands of the US government: hunger, cruelty, lice and flu spreading through the cells, and sleeping on concrete floors, in tents, a windowless warehouse, a loading dock. For days. Weeks in some cases. Some described assaults by Border Patrol agents.

“Nobody takes care of us here,” an 11-year-old boy told us. “I try to take care of my little brother and sister since no one will take care of them. There are little kids here who have no one to take care of them . . . . Some kids are only 2 or 3 years old and they have no one to take care of them.”

As the stories unfolded in interview after interview, we wondered what would end the systematic abuse of these children— what combination of public pressure, media attention, legal change, litigation, and other strategies could push officials to do the right thing.

We considered whether international law could help. Probably not, at least not directly. Although the United States has actively participated in building the international legal framework that protects children’s rights, it has been loath to bind its own conduct by international norms.

All of the children we interviewed were without parents, except a few babies and toddlers whose parents were children themselves. We saw older children struggling to care for younger ones, often children they did not know.

After thousands of children were forcibly separated from their families, President Donald J. Trump announced an end to the family separation policy in June 2018 and a federal court ordered the reunification of separated families the same month. And yet child after child sat before us describing when and how US officials forcibly separated them from their families this year.

Children showed us tiny slips of paper they had tucked away in their pockets containing US telephone numbers for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. Sometimes the children recited memorized numbers.

When we used our cell phones so children could speak to their loved ones for the first time in days or weeks, we saw tears and smiles as the calls were immediately answered or returned. Both sides tried to assure the other that they would be together soon, but we, and likely they, knew better.

By law, children shouldn’t be in Border Patrol custody more than 72 hours. The government gets some leeway if the number of arrivals is such that it can’t do that, but children should be promptly transferred to US Department of Health and Human Services custody. From there, children should be reunified with family in the US or, if no family member could care for the child, with another caregiver.

These transfers are supposed to take place as expeditiously as possible, and in no case more than 20 days from the time children enter Border Patrol custody. Earlier this year, the Border Patrol was detaining children for more than 90 days on average, in violation of both these legal limits and the children’s rights.

There are elements of international law that could help. Take, for example, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. The United States contributed substantially to drafting the convention between 1979 and 1989.

It then took six years for the United States to sign the treaty, in 1995, and since that time, no president has ever sent it to the US Senate for ratification, the formal agreement to be bound by its terms. The United States remains the lone holdout among UN member countries.

Some of the specific terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are now norms of customary international law, meaning that a global consensus has emerged that all countries are obligated to respect certain children’s rights.

An example is the death penalty for crimes committed by children. Only a handful of countries sentence children to death and fewer carry out these sentences—and most of those do so furtively rather than claiming the right to execute juvenile offenders. The Supreme Court opinion striking down the juvenile death penalty in the United States in 2005 cited “the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty,” coming close to but not acknowledging that international consensus was such that a norm of customary international had emerged against the practice.

In the same way that the world has recognized that children should not be executed, it has also recognized that children belong with family, unless that’s not in an individual child’s best interests, and that they should never be abused or neglected.

Additionally, the United States has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a party to that treaty, United States has agreed to protect the family and to give children special protection.

To be sure, the principle of family unity isn’t an absolute, as the prohibition on the juvenile death penalty is. And abuse and neglect cover a wide range of acts; it’s not always straightforward to determine what conduct amounts to these violations.

Assuming those issues can be resolved, what could be accomplished if one made a strong argument that US violations of children’s rights violated US obligations under international law?

Like many human rights treaties, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was intended to establish international norms. It did not initially have an enforcement mechanism. Instead, states submit country reports for review every five years. An enforcement option recently came into force, but as we might expect given the US failure to ratify the convention itself, the United States has not signed or ratified that protocol.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is just one of many human rights treaties that the US has failed to ratify, including treaties intended to eliminate discrimination against women, to enumerate everyone’s economic, social, and cultural rights, to protect migrant workers and their families, to fortify the rights of people with disabilities, and to establish the International Criminal Court to hold those responsible for war crimes and genocide accountable.

So what international recourse do these children have?

One possibility is the regular accounting every UN member has to make at the Human Rights Council, a process known as Universal Periodic Review. In May 2020, when the United States is up next, every other UN member will be able to ask questions and make comments and recommendations on US respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its voluntary commitments, and its treaty and customary international law obligations. Until mid-September, nongovernmental organizations can submit information—including statements from detained children themselves—to inform these discussions.

Universal Periodic Review is not a court process, and it can’t compel countries to take action. But it’s the only human rights process that covers all UN members, and its scope is broad. There’s a real value in the political pressure of regular review by other countries.

In the near term, real change will most likely have to come through domestic strategies. That means the kind of litigation capably pursued by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. It means Congressional oversight and legal changes to strengthen instead of weaken protections. It means the US government taking on board the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council and other UN experts. It means overhauling agencies that have a track record of abuse, and effective internal accountability systems, and prosecution for egregious misconduct.

Most of all, it means public pressure.

That means showing opposition to cruelty—by peaceful protest, by writing or calling lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and by respectful discussion in communities throughout the country.

It means amplifying the voices of detained children and asking others to do the same.

Whatever approaches are used—as many in combination as possible, ideally—they will have to persuade the president and Congress that inhumanity is unacceptable. 

Two successive summers of public outrage have yet to do that. But sooner or later, we will reach a tipping point, hopefully one that persuades policymakers that cruelty to children and their families is a losing proposition.

Michael Garcia Bochenek is senior children’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. Warren Binford is a professor of law and director of the Clinical Law Program at Willamette University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Street children in Mbale town, east of Kampala sleep on shop verandas after owners have closed for the day. © 2014 Edward Echwalu

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“They took us at night, so we didn’t know where we were being taken,” 11-year-old Jonathan (not his real name) told me.

He was one of over 600 children and young adults that police indiscriminately rounded up around Kampala on July 23 and 24 as part of a city-wide exercise by local authorities and the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to remove homeless children from the streets and resettle them.

The roundups are ostensibly meant to help the children but authorities carried them out without respect for basic rights. Three witnesses told Human Rights Watch that policemen used sticks and batons to beat children as they forced them into vehicles.

“It was violent. Even the way they were handled. They grabbed them. And they were shouting at them: ‘Why are you on the street?’” said Martin Baliko, who runs Amari Uganda, a Kampala based organization that rehabilitates street-children. A newspaper also ran a photograph of a policeman and a member of a the Local Defence Unit, a paramilitary group, dragging a child away during the operation.

Police transferred the children and young adults they arrested to youth rehabilitation centers where they are being held before they are resettled. An official at Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Centre told me that at least 73 people were released last week because they were adults or children who live with their parents.

Violent and arbitrary roundups of street children by police in Kampala are not new. In 2014, Human Rights Watch found that police and other officials beat, extorted money from, and arbitrarily detained street children after similar roundups.

Both Ugandan and international law provide a strong framework banning abuse and harassment that should protect children’s rights. If police arrest children, Uganda’s Children’s Act says they should immediately take them to court. If this is not possible and if charges are not serious, they should release them on police bond. This does not seem to be happening in these cases.

Groups working to help street children fear that more roundups are imminent, particularly as parliament approved a supplementary budget of 3.4 million Ugandan Shilling (US$918, 850) in May specifically for removal operations, street surveillance, and various rehabilitation activities.

If the government continues with its plans to remove children from the street, it should do so only in a manner that respects children’s rights, ensuring that they can access appropriate services, and are treated with dignity.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People are seen near a bus destroyed by an airstrike that killed dozens of children, in a photograph taken on August 12, 2018 in Saada, Yemen.

© 2018 Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images
 
(New York) – The United Nations secretary-general omitted countries responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict in his new “list of shame,” Human Rights Watch said today. The list also gave certain countries an undeserved more favorable designation despite their failed promises to improve their record.
 
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released his annual report on children and armed conflict on July 30, 2019, in advance of a UN Security Council open debate on the subject on August 2. The Security Council has requested an annual list of those responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict since 2001.
 
“The UN secretary-general simply refuses to hold to account all warring parties that have inflicted tremendous suffering on children,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “By listing selected violators but not others, Secretary-General Guterres is ignoring the UN’s own evidence and undermining efforts to protect children in conflict.”
 
Guterres failed to list the Israel Defense Forces, the Afghan National Army, and US-led international forces in Afghanistan in the new report as responsible for grave violations against children, including killing and maiming, despite considerable evidence of violations by these parties.
 
Although he listed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen, he once again included the coalition in a category of parties taking steps to improve, despite overwhelming evidence that coalition forces killed and harmed children on a large scale in 2018.
 
According to the report, the number of Palestinian children killed or injured reached its highest level since 2014. Fifty-nine Palestinian children were killed in 2018, fifty-six of them by the Israel Defense Forces, nearly a four-fold increase over 2017. In the West Bank, Israeli forces injured 1,398 children in 2018, while in Gaza they injured 1,335 children. A Palestinian rocket injured 6 Israeli children in 2018. Previous reports have also found the Israel Defense Forces responsible for killing and maiming Palestinian children, but the secretary-general has yet to include the Israeli forces in his list of abusers.
 
In Afghanistan, child deaths reached the highest level since figures were first recorded in 2009. The secretary-general found that the US-led international forces were responsible for 286 child deaths and injuries in 2018, nearly triple the number reported in 2017, but did not include the forces in his list. He also did not include the Afghan National Army, responsible for 467 child deaths and injuries.
 
The Security Council requires parties on the secretary-general’s list to sign and carry out an action plan with the UN to end their violations against children. Twenty-eight parties to armed conflict have signed such plans. Once parties carry out their plans and end violations, they may be removed from the list. Parties that refuse to sign or carry out an action plan may be subject to sanctions, including arms embargoes, travel bans, and asset freezes.
 
For the third consecutive year, the secretary-general has divided his “list of shame” into two separate lists, one for parties that have not put in place measures to protect children, and another, “List B,” for parties that have put in place measures “aimed at improving the protection of children.”
 
The 2018 “List B” includes both the Saudi-led coalition and the Somali National Army, despite spikes in violations by both parties in 2018. According to the secretary-general’s report, the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 729 child casualties – killed and injured – in Yemen in 2018, compared with 670 in 2017. In 2018, the Somali National Army was responsible for 113 child casualties, compared with 88 in 2017, and 155 cases of child recruitment, compared with 119 in 2017. Despite these increases, they retained their “List B” status.
 
“It’s baffling that the secretary-general’s ‘not-so-bad’ list gives credit to parties that are increasing, not reducing, their violations against children,” Becker said. “Guterres should return to a single list based solely on evidence of violations on the ground.”
 
Guterres appropriately included the armed forces of Syria, Myanmar, and South Sudan on the list of shame.
 
In at least two cases, Guterres included parties to conflicts on his list for some violations, but not others. For example, last year he de-listed the Saudi-led coalition for attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen, despite 19 UN-verified attacks on schools during 2017. In his new report, he attributes 12 attacks on schools and 3 attacks on hospitals to the coalition, yet again does not include coalition forces in his list for attacks on schools and hospitals. They are listed only for killing and maiming children.
 
Similarly, the secretary-general reported that the Somali National Army was responsible for 50 cases of sexual violence in 2018, yet only listed the forces for killing and maiming and recruiting child soldiers.
 
The report completely fails to mention reported abuses by the government or militants in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions or Ukraine. In his November 2018 report on Central Africa, the secretary-general highlighted civilian casualties, including children, in English-speaking regions of Cameroon, and in June 2018, UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, reported that 58 schools had been damaged since the beginning of the crisis in the country’s North-West and South-West regions. Human Rights Watch has documented the kidnapping of hundreds of students by armed separatists, as well as their occupation of school buildings.
 
In Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported that at least 28 children died in hostilities in 2018 and the Education Cluster reported at least 82 security incidents involving educational facilities in 2018, including shelling of schools.
 
“The ‘list of shame’ is a powerful tool for accountability and ending violations against children,” Becker said. “During the upcoming Security Council debate, member states should demand a list based on facts. Pampering major violators to avoid an unpleasant backlash risks making a mockery of the whole exercise.”
 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A couple and their two children leave the food bank in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, UK, after collecting a three-day emergency supply of food, April 2019. Food banks report a rise in families needing assistance during the school breaks. © 2019 Kartik Raj/Human Rights Watch

The summer holidays have begun here in Britain. For many children of low-income families what should be a happy time is instead filled with anxiety. Food aid charities predict an upsurge in poorer families relying on food banks, now that the school kitchens they relied on to provide their children with a buttered piece of toast at a morning breakfast club or a hot meal at lunch are closed for the summer.

Last week, a group of concerned parliamentarians hosted a meeting to discuss Human Rights Watch’s recent report on the right to food in the UK. Our research found that deep austerity-driven cuts to welfare spending and local authority funding over the past decade have left low-income families hungry and dependent on food aid from charities.

For children, the school canteen may be the only place they get a hot meal all day. With schools shut for the summer, up to a million children risk going hungry. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest national food bank network, recently revealed that it saw a 20 percent rise in emergency food parcels for children last summer, and they expect more this year.

As the world’s fifth largest economy, the UK has ample resources to ensure that its poorest families do not fall through the welfare safety net. The UK also has a duty under international human rights law to ensure everyone has access to adequate food, either by ensuring people can afford it, or if necessary, by providing food assistance programs for people in urgent need. The government should also recognize the right to food within domestic law as a key human right.

The government has slowly been acknowledging holiday hunger and has funded limited pilot projects to address it (it spent £2 million in 2018 and has promised to spend a further £9 million in 2019). Critics point out that this funding is limited and cannot address the root causes. Also, it is unclear from the government’s reply to Human Rights Watch whether this funding will continue.   

Ending childhood hunger in the UK should be high on the list of priorities for incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Summer holidays should be a time for children to rest and relax, not a period of anxiety and uncertainty over where their next proper meal will come from.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A picture drawn by a migrant child is shown during the July 12, 2019 House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing where members of the US Congress testified about their trip to the US-Mexico border. (c) 2019 Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

 

As members of a team of lawyers tasked with interviewing immigrant children held in U.S. Border Patrol detention facilities, we have been compelled to speak out about our findings exposing the systematic abuse and neglect of migrant children in government custody.

Regardless of their views on immigration, good and decent people on both sides of the aisle should surely agree that we do not want to hurt children, and that, right now, we should set and enforce clear legal standards of care for children in U.S. government custody. 

What we have learned so far is deeply troubling. At the migrant detention center in Clint, Texas, filthy children told us they’d had irregular access to showers, had been wearing the same clothes since they’d arrived, and were facing outbreaks of influenza. Some were trying to take care of younger children they didn’t know. A group of girls said guards pulled their bedding and mattresses out of their cell and ordered them to sleep on the floor as punishment for losing a comb.

Dozens of children held in Arizona told government inspectors they endured groping of breasts and genitals, along with  racial and other derogatory slurs by border agents. A government inspection report detailed “dangerous overcrowding,” serious health concerns, and excessively prolonged detention in border stations in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. 

And even so, a government lawyer told a federal appellate court that the legal requirement of “safe and sanitary” detention conditions for children didn’t necessarily mean giving them soap, clean clothes, toothbrushes, or an uninterrupted night of sleep. 

Clearly, enforceable standards are desperately needed. Members of both parties in Congress should insist that the Trump Administration work with pediatric experts to identify a robust set of standards and how to measure and enforce them.

Here is what needs to be done:

Accept the truth 

The evidence is consistent, and damning. Hundreds of children have offered sworn declarations documenting their abuse and neglect at the hands of U.S. government officials. The children’s sworn testimony is supported by adult witnesses, court orders, government data, public statements from government officials, and interviews and photographs gathered and analyzed by the Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General. Let’s acknowledge that the current system for processing children is dangerously broken and that, no matter who is at fault, needs to be fixed immediately.

Separate the process from the result 

Regardless of what people think the outcome of asylum hearings should be, the process should be fair. Children shouldn’t be abused while they await a decision.

Move forward around shared values

While the current political environment is starkly polarized, there are a few basic things we can agree on as a start: 

First, children belong with family. We need to do everything we can to keep children with their families except when a qualified child welfare official determines it’s truly not in their best interest. 

Second, if children must be separated from their adult family caregiver for any period of time, they should be kept with their siblings and other child relatives and cared for together by loving and attentive adults who are professionally trained to care for children—and then, only for the shortest time possible.

Third, children should not be in cages—ever. Extensive research has shown the profound harm caused by locking children up for any reason and for any length of time. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that of the unaccompanied and separated children it has released from its custody to date in the current fiscal year, it placed 89 percent with adult family members or other guardians living in the United States. We simply need to get them there. The remaining 11 percent should be in state-licensed foster homes, not Border Patrol stations or massive Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities.

And regardless of where children stay or with whom, they should be healthy, warm, and safe. That means nutritious food, clean water, regular bathing, proper beds, time and space to play and learn, supervision by kind and attentive adults (preferably their own families), and adequate medical care.

The cost of being cruel to children is high. Let’s do better by these children. Our own humanity is in the balance.

This article was authored by Michael Garcia Bochenek, Human Rights Watch and Warren Binford, Director of the Clinical Law Program at Willamette University.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters from Unchained at Last speak in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston to end child marriage in Massachusetts, May 2017. 

(c) 2017 Susan Landmann/Unchained at Last
(Boston) – Massachusetts state senators should vote on July 25, 2019, for a proposed law to end child marriage in Massachusetts, Human Rights Watch said today. Senate Bill S.2294 has broad bipartisan support and is backed by 35 Massachusetts-based organizations, as well as national and international groups.

The Massachusetts House Judiciary Committee should make the House version of the bill, H.1478, a priority, and send it to the floor for a vote before the August recess.

“Massachusetts state senators should take this long overdue step to protect children’s rights,” said Nesha Abiraj, women’s rights research fellow at Human Rights Watch. “The overwhelming evidence is that marrying young exposes children to violence and health risks, and limits their ability to get help.”

Senate Bill S.24, now S.2294, filed by Senator Harriette Chandler, and House Bill H.1478, filed by Representative Kay Khan, would prohibit marriage before the age of 18 without exception. The bills were refiled in January after being sent for further study in March 2018.

Between 2000 and 2016, more than 1,200 children under age 18 were married in Massachusetts, according to government data. Almost all of them were girls marrying adult men; and 57 were under age 16, the state’s legal age of consent.

The current law sets the minimum marriage age at 18 but allows children of any age to marry with permission from a judge and the child’s parents. Some children marry because their parents force or coerce them, and in those cases, parental consent requirements amount to no protection at all.

Marriage places girls–who are far more likely to be subjected to child marriage than boys–at risk of harm to their health, curtailed education, poverty, and domestic violence. Married children can face significant obstacles in escaping abusive relationships and getting help. They may have difficulty retaining a lawyer, filing for divorce, or even seeking shelter. Massachusetts law limits how long children can stay in homeless shelters without parental consent, and several domestic violence shelters told Human Rights Watch that they do not admit children unless they are accompanied by a parent seeking shelter.

Human Rights Watch is working with a coalition to end child marriage in Massachusetts, which includes the Office of the Child Advocate, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and the Children’s League of Massachusetts. The coalition also includes national organizations, such as Unchained at Last and Tahirih Justice Center, and international organizations, including UNICEF USA and Global Citizen. Several coalition representatives and constituents who have been supporting the bill will be present at the vote on July 25, including Human Rights Watch.

Other states are also ending child marriage. Delaware became the first US state to completely outlaw child marriage in May 2018, followed by New Jersey in June 2018. In both states, the bills had bipartisan support. Similar bills to ban child marriage have been introduced in other states. Recently in Pennsylvania, a similar bill to completely ban child marriage passed unanimously, 195-0, in the House and is now before the Senate for consideration. Bills to ban child marriage are pending in nine states.

Human Rights Watch has carried out research for more than a decade on child marriage in countries around the world. It has also campaigned to end child marriage in the US, including in New York and Florida.

“We urge the House to bring their child marriage bill up for a vote before the August recess and for Governor Baker to sign it into law,” Abiraj said. “By ending the scourge of child marriage, Massachusetts can lead the way for reform in states across the country.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mozambican girls take part in a lesson as part of a program that aims to help girls stay in school longer and stay out of child marriage in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, April 20, 2018.

© 2019 AP Photo/Christopher Torchia

Mozambique’s national assembly took an important step toward ending the country’s sky-high rate of child marriage by unanimously adopting a law banning the practice. The new law prohibits marriage of children younger than 18 years old, without exception, and awaits the president’s signature to go into effect.

Mozambique has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with almost half of girls marrying before 18, and 1 in 10 before their fifteenth birthday. Child marriage often pushes girls out of school and condemns them to a life of poverty. It leaves them vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and early pregnancies, which can cause lasting harm and even death.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi should sign the proposed law without delay and ensure girls are protected from the harms of child marriage. Government authorities should then make sure that communities know about the law when it comes into force and monitor its implementation.

In 2016, Mozambique launched a National Strategy on Prevention and Fight against Child Marriage. The impact of the strategy, which expires at the end of this year, is unclear.

As parliamentarians acknowledged in the debate around the child marriage law, keeping girls in school is key to preventing child marriages. In addition to ensuring the law is fully enforcd, government authorities should also review efforts to increase school retention for girls as part of its strategy to end child marriage.

The government has already taken a few important steps in this regard. In December 2018, Mozambique revoked a discriminatory 2003 decree that forced pregnant girls to take classes at night school. Education officials should now monitor schools to ensure that pregnant girls are going to school during the day. They should ensure Mozambique’s new education strategy addresses the educational needs of all girls, including pregnant and married girls and young mothers. The government should also address other barriers to their education such as stigma and lack of finances.

By passing this law, the national assembly has recognized Mozambique’s international obligation to uphold the rights of girls. With the president’s signature, children in Mozambique will finally have a new law to protect them.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch mourns the passing of our dear former colleague Simon Rau, a talented, committed human rights advocate. As a Mercator Fellow with the Children’s Rights Division, Simon carried out research and reporting of the highest quality on barriers to education for children seeking asylum in Turkey and in Greece, and on donor funding for education in response to the Syria conflict. Simon contributed to tangible improvements in access to education for extremely vulnerable children. We send our deepest condolences to his friends and family. 

Human Rights Watch ist tief betroffen vom Tod unseres ehemaligen Kollegen Simon Rau, einem talentierten und engagierten Menschenrechtsverteidiger. Als Mercator-Stipendiat in der Abteilung für Kinderrechte führte Simon Recherchen zu Schulbildung für Flüchtlingskinder in der Türkei und in Griechenland durch. Dank Simon verbesserte sich der Zugang zu Bildung für besonders schutzbedürftige Kinder spürbar. Sein Engagement war außergewöhnlich; seine Kollegialität wurde von uns allen sehr geschätzt. Wir werden Simon sehr vermissen. Seiner Familie sprechen wir unser aufrichtiges Beileid aus.

See Simon's profile here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The school at Hammam al-Alil 1 camp for displaced people south of Mosul that security forces occupied on July 6, 7, and 9 in order to conduct security screenings of camp residents. 

© 2019 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

(Erbil) – Iraqi military have accompanied police in entering a camp for displaced people south of Mosul and started “screening” over 3,500 households there, Human Rights Watch said today. The screenings appear to include questioning camp residents about the actions and whereabouts of their relatives who are suspected of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation.

The arrival of the armed men, who occupied a school in the camp, is causing panic among camp residents, who have told Human Rights Watch that they fear arrest over the acts of their relatives, and in some cases sexual exploitation. Iraqi authorities have said they plan to conduct similar screenings at other camps for displaced people in the governorate.

“While Iraqi police forces should be taking reasonable actions to improve security for everyone, the military should not be occupying schools or even entering camps for the displaced,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “No one should become a criminal suspect just because of their relatives.”

Nine residents of Hammam al-Alil 1 camp, 30 kilometers south of Mosul, told Human Rights Watch that on July 6, agents arrived from Military Intelligence, the National Security Service (NSS), the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) forces under the Ministry of Interior, and local police.

The camp houses over 3,500 families who have been displaced for years, since fighting between ISIS and Iraqi forces broke out in the area. The families in the camp were screened when they arrived.

After some discussion, the residents said the security agents decided to conduct the screenings from the school inside the camp, which is closed for summer recess. Given the involvement of military forces, this violates international humanitarian principles and is contrary to the Safe Schools Declaration, a commitment Iraq endorsed to protect education in conflict by refraining from the use of schools by military forces. Human Rights Watch has found that the presence of fighting forces in schools endangers students and teachers, can lead to the damage and destruction of education infrastructure, and can interfere with students’ right to education.

Two witnesses told Human Rights Watch that there is already a screening site next to the camp. Aid workers at the camp said they protested the use of the school, but that security forces ignored their concerns and began using the school to screen residents on July 9, calling on families to start coming in in groups of 25.

After the first day of screening, security forces halted the process because of the objections from the aid groups, three aid workers said. As of July 17, Human Rights Watch was informed that authorities in Baghdad had decided that the screenings would relocate to the nearby screening site in coming days. 

Three witnesses also said the security forces were carrying arms when they arrived and during the screening, including at the doorway into the school caravan. An army colonel who manages security at the screening site adjacent to the camp told Human Rights Watch that they needed to be armed because his forces do not have a presence inside the camp, and because of fears that camp residents are potentially armed, smuggle drugs and alcohol into the camp, and are engaged in criminal activity like prostitution.

Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree in 2017 reiterating orders that security forces are not allowed to enter camps with weapons.

Three aid workers said the authorities told camp management they intended to conduct screenings to gather the details about the families inside the camp including their governorate of origin and to identify which families were ISIS-affiliated. The aid workers said the managers implied that families might be hiding ISIS relatives, saying they had been informed that some women in the camp with supposedly missing husbands had become pregnant in recent months, and they said they wanted to issue civil documentation to those without it.

The witnesses said they saw security forces give a group of informal community leaders in the camp forms and told the leaders that they had to give one form to each family and would risk legal action if they missed anyone. Human Rights Watch has obtained copies.

The forms tell each family to list all family members, with names, birthdates, gender, and marital status, the family’s home address, type of vehicle, and date of displacement. The forms tell families to list every family member who joined ISIS and to provide details on when they died, disappeared, or were arrested. The forms provided do not say why this information is being gathered, or by which authority.

The military colonel who manages security at the screening site outside the camp also told Human Rights Watch on July 11 that the authorities wanted to ensure that all families in the camp missing civil documentation could obtain it. However, two families who underwent the screenings on July 9 said that they told security forces they had children without civil documentation and the security forces did nothing to register the children or facilitate their access to documentation.

One woman said that she told security forces that her husband, who had joined ISIS, died in September 2017. She said: “They asked me if I was sure he was dead, and I said yes. Then they threatened – we will check that and if it turns out that you lied, we will take legal action against you.”

Another resident said: “The screenings triggered a panic in the camp, with families fearing arrest just because they have a relative who joined ISIS.” He said he knew of families who fled the camp upon hearing about the screenings, even though their home had been destroyed during military operations and they had nowhere to go.

Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances in the context of screenings linked to counterterrorism operations over the last three years in Iraq, including of family members of people perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS.

“Women near my tent were saying to me they were scared of what might happen to them going into that school alone to be screened by a group of male security forces,” the second resident said.

Four camp residents said they personally knew of cases of security forces engaging in sexual exploitation in the camp in the past. Two women described security forces entering the camp and coercing women they knew into sex, including for pay, particularly women who no longer had male adult relatives with them. One camp resident said she knew of two women in the camp who had become pregnant within the last six months as a result of coerced sex by security forces in incidents not linked to the screenings.

Two senior aid workers said the authorities have said they are planning to conduct these screenings at all camps for displaced people in Nineveh. They said they fear the security forces will again violate principles around the civilian nature of the camp by entering the camp armed and by taking over and using civilian infrastructure.

Iraqi forces should carry out Iraq’s commitments under the Safe Schools Declaration and refrain from using schools for military purposes. No military forces should enter displacement camps with their arms.

Individuals should only be detained according to the law, when there is evidence of their having committed criminal offenses themselves, and not because of the actions of their relatives.

“Security forces should ensure that they conduct their operations in line with Iraqi and international principles, and in a way that is humane and dignified for the families who participate in it,” Fakih said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sixteen beds fill a room with barred windows in a closed institution for children with disabilities.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

(Berlin) – Children with disabilities in state institutions in Kazakhstan are at risk of physical violence, forced sedation, and neglect, Human Rights Watch said today.

Kazakhstan should make it a priority to move children with disabilities out of closed residential institutions and provide support for children with disabilities to live with their families, or in other family settings in the community. All forms of violence in closed institutions and the use of restraints as a form of punishment, control, or retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for staff, should be prohibited.

“Hundreds of children and young adults with disabilities in Kazakhstan are locked away in closed children’s institutions, where they can face neglect and violence, and are isolated from families and society,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kazakhstan should call a halt to these abusive practices and urgently develop a way for children with disabilities and their families to get the services they need to protect their right to a family life.”

Between October 2017 and April 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 27 children and young adults with disabilities who had lived in closed children’s institutions, as well as parents of children with disabilities, institution staff, and disability rights experts and activists. Human Rights Watch also visited three institutions for children with disabilities.

Children and young adults who grew up in closed institutions for children with disabilities reported that staff beat them, forcibly administered sedatives to punish or control them, and forced them to take care of younger children.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, Kazakhstan has 19 state institutions for children with mental health conditions and developmental disabilities. More than 2,000 children live in these institutions, though many have at least one living parent.

Staff confirmed that they use psychotropic drugs to sedate children and have sent children to psychiatric hospitals for behavior such as screaming, shouting, or refusing to follow staff directions. Such drugs are usually medically prescribed to treat schizophrenia, sleep disorders, and strong pain. The sedatives put children to sleep, in some cases for up to 24 hours.

Several young adults who grew up in institutions said that staff beat them with objects such as crutches and mops, or slammed them or other children against the wall. Staff would also force children to work, for example to mop floors, or to feed, bathe, and change the diapers of younger children. In one institution, Human Rights Watch saw a young girl in physical restraints, with her arms fixed around her torso, enclosed in a pink cloth with sleeves tied behind her back, like a strait jacket.

Upon turning 18, many young adults with disabilities are automatically transferred to adult institutions and remain there. In part, this is due due to a lack of services to support young adults with disabilities to live independently.

They may face more violence in the adult institutions. One man described being repeatedly stripped naked and placed in a very cold cage-like isolation room as punishment.

Children with disabilities living in state children’s institutions receive little or no education. “We don’t have a school [education] program, but a correctional program,” one institution director said. “Children here are weak and difficult.”

In all the children’s institutions Human Rights Watch visited, children face neglect. Up to 16 children are kept in rooms together, with only a few caregivers. Some children, typically those who cannot walk or talk, are confined almost continuously to cribs or beds.

After her September 2017 visit to Kazakhstan, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas, noted that, “Living independently in the community is one of the major challenges for persons with disabilities in Kazakhstan,” and that she had received “worrisome allegations of violence, abuse and degrading treatment against persons placed in those institutions, especially girls and women with disabilities.”

An 18-year-old man who grew up in institutions said, “It’s not a life. They fed us, dressed us. I want to build my own life. I want a life! I want to live on my own, make [my own] food, go to work.”

In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, the Labor and Social Protection Ministry acknowledged that “large dormitory-like institutions lead to overcrowding… reduce the quality of services and the social adaptation of people in society, [and] lead to the loss of family ties.” The Labor and Social Protection Ministry also said that 727 children with disabilities had been returned to their families in 2018, facilitated by the development of day care centers. The ministry said that it plans to develop smaller homes, for 10 to 50 people.

However, while such homes may be smaller in scale, they would only perpetuate institutionalization in so far as residents would not have autonomy over their daily lives. Instead, the Kazakh government should invest in the development of community-based services to support independent living for people with disabilities. If small-group living arrangements are developed, they should be community-based, voluntary, ensure autonomy and individual decision-making, with support as necessary, and include programs to teach skills for living independently.

Kazakh law states that “every child has the right to live and be raised in their family, the right to know their parents, the right to their care, and the right to live with them, except when it is contrary to their interests.” As a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Kazakhstan should ensure that all children with disabilities can grow up in a family and be included in the community, regardless of their disability or multiple disabilities. The government is also obligated to protect children from abuse and ill-treatment and should prohibit using sedatives and physical restraints to control or punish people with disabilities.

Children should only be placed in residential institutions under the supervision of an independent judicial body, in cases of emergency, or to prevent the separation of siblings, and for a limited duration. Family reunification or placement in family-based alternative care should be the ultimate plan for the child, Human Rights Watch said.

The Kazakh government should adopt a time-bound plan to phase out the use of residential institutions for children with disabilities and prioritize accessible community-based services and support to families. The government should end abuses in closed children’s institutions and ensure rigorous monitoring of institutions pending their closure.

“All children, including those with disabilities, should be at home, with their families,” Rittmann said. “The Kazakh government should make sure that children with disabilities and their families have the support they need to live in the community, just like everyone else.”

For more information about conditions in closed institutions for children with disabilities in Kazakhstan, please see below.

Kazakhstan’s Labor and Social Protection Ministry helped facilitate access to three closed children’s institutions, in Almaty, Karaganda, and Shymkent, which Human Rights Watch visited in November and December 2018. The ministry also responded in July to a letter about conditions in such institutions. Interviews were voluntary and held in private. Human Rights Watch used pseudonyms for all the children and young adults interviewed to protect their privacy and confidentiality.

Children confined to a "lying down" room in a closed children's institution. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Institutionalization of Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities in state care in Kazakhstan live in institutions known as Special Social Services Centers for Children. There are currently 19 special children’s centers, with a total of over 2,000 children. Most children in these centers have intellectual, psychosocial – that is, mental health – or developmental disabilities. They include children with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. Children in Kazakhstan with other types of disabilities, such as physical or sensory disabilities, may live in residential special schools, or at home with their families, or in two specialized residential institutions for children with physical disabilities.

The practice of institutionalization in Kazakhstan carries over from its Soviet past, where, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, institutions were “considered as the best public care solution” and the prevailing view was that “all those who, for different reasons, could not fit within the rules of society should be isolated.”

At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visits to special children’s centers in 2018, there were 131 children in the Almaty special children’s center; 176 children at the Shymkent special children’s center; and 175 children in Karaganda special children’s center, ages 3 to 18. The Karaganda center also has 68 young adults ages 18 and older.

While many institutionalized children have at least one living parent, parents are required by law to relinquish their parental rights to admit their children in state residential institutions. The institution director becomes the child’s legal guardian.

Treatment and Conditions

Sedatives, Forced Psychiatric Hospitalization for Control and Punishment

Several of the current or former special children’s center residents interviewed said that staff had given them sedatives, or they had seen staff give other children sedatives to control them or punish them for their behavior. Some children said that staff forced them to go to local psychiatric hospitals for behavior such as not following staff directions, which they took to be punishment. Some were forced to remain there for weeks, a month, or more.

Institution staff, as well as one parent whose child currently lives at an institution, corroborated these practices. One staff member said that a child was hospitalized after behavior such as pulling another caregiver’s hair.

Kazakh law gives psychiatrists the authority to order forced hospitalization, including for children, for monitoring or treatment. But it is not clear what, if any, basis in law exists for holding children in psychiatric hospitals for these extended periods.

The use of medications for staff convenience, to control behavior, or as punishment, is known as chemical restraint and is never acceptable. The UN special rapporteur on torture has stated that “any restraint on persons with disabilities for even a short period of time may constitute torture and ill-treatment.” Medications should only be used for therapeutic purposes and consistent with the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Bakhyt, a 24-year-old woman who grew up in a special children’s center, said that institution staff punish children by “giving shots to make [us] sleep.” She also said that institution staff had punished her for running around in the bedroom by giving her an injection, and had sent her to the psychiatric hospital for two months. Bakhyt said that institution staff had told the attending psychiatrist that she had tried to jump out of the window, though she said she hadn’t. “They shouldn’t lie like that,” she said. “God is watching.”

Asel, 22, who grew up in the same institution, also said that staff punished children by giving them sedatives. “When they give you a shot,” she said, “then you sleep for one whole day.” Several other young people who had lived in other institutions said they too slept for long periods after staff gave them injections or pills.

Galym, now 23, was also institutionalized as a child. He said that in the special children’s center where he lived, “if you run off to go to the shop, they send you to the psychiatric hospital.” He said he was given shots twice a day which made him “slow.” He said both he and some of his caregivers asked the medical workers to stop the medication, but they refused.

Staff at all three children’s institutions said that when children become overexcited or uncontrollable, for example when they do not follow directions, the staff first summon the institution’s psychologist to talk to the child, to try and calm them. But they admitted that when that approach was not effective, they could call the doctor to give children sedatives and in more serious cases, send them to psychiatric hospitals.

One institution director said that if children “are uncontrollable, we call an ambulance, and they take the child to the psychiatric health center [hospital].” A caregiver who works with 15- to 18-year-old boys at the same institution said that staff sometimes threaten to call the psychiatric hospital ambulance to compel the boys to follow instructions. She said that staff summoned the psychiatric hospital ambulance after a boy in her group pulled the hair of one of the caregivers. “He spent a month at [the psychiatric hospital],” she said.

A medical worker at another special children’s center said that in 2017, staff called a psychiatric hospital ambulance when a 17-year-old boy tried repeatedly to run away. The boy was sent to the psychiatric hospital for over 40 days, the medical worker said.

She said that if the psychiatrist decides a child needs medication, for example, because he hits himself, they prescribe a sedative for up to two or three months, then there is a break. “We only give shots at the moment [the child] acts up,” she said.

Use of Sedatives, Isolation Cells to Punish Adults

Children who were transferred to adult institutions upon turning 18 said they faced similar abuse there.

Amir, a 24-year-old who grew up in state care, said his time in the adult institution “was horrible”:

They [the staff] had a habit of beating us if we didn’t want to help or if we didn’t listen to them. They would also give us shots. Shots and shots of aminazine, to make us sleep. They break it open, jab it in you and that’s it. Or, they’d take a tablet, crush it up in their hand and make me drink it.

Svetlana, also 24, lived in the same adult institution. She said that institution staff “would give shots to anyone who wouldn’t listen. The shots would make people sleep a lot… People would sleep for a long time, feel very weak. You want to drink a lot, [but] your appetite falls away.”

Both also said they were put in isolation as punishment. Amir said that one night orderlies beat him and insulted him, then they put him in an isolation room overnight:

“It was so cold. They opened the window. It was so cold. They would give me the shot and then close me in the cage. It was so cold. They took all of our clothes off. We were totally without anything… No bed, nothing, just a bare floor. I just had to lie on the floor. There was nothing. It was so cold.”

Anara, 30, said that in state institutions where she lived as an adult, “[If] you behave poorly, they give you shots or pills, or put you behind bars. When they punish you, they lock you up. They can keep you there until the morning. There is a metal bed, mattress. [When you’re locked up] they don’t give you food.”

Physical Restraints

Like chemical restraints, the use of physical restraints such as tying or strait jackets to control children’s behavior is unacceptable, and may amount to torture and ill-treatment, even if used only for a short time.

A young girl whose arms were tied and affixed behind her back in a closed children's institution.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch observed that staff in one institution had bound the arms of a girl who was about 10 years old, wrapping them around her torso and fixing them down using a piece of clothing tied behind her back, similar to a strait jacket. A staff member attending to the girl said that the management of the institution does not allow her to keep the girl tied up for more than half an hour at a time.

Another staff member in the same institution said that they sometimes use physical restraints on children if they “really act up.” In those cases, she said, they restrain the child for 20 or 30 minutes, “but we don’t tie young ones, only children 10 and above.”

In March 2018, a 7-year-old boy who lived in a children’s institution in Talgar, a town in southern Kazakhstan, died of asphyxiation after his caregiver reportedly tied him to his bed because he would not sleep and was disturbing other children in the same room. The caregiver was convicted of murder and sentenced to 13 years in prison, but no other institution staff appear to have been held accountable for the child’s death.

Physical Violence

Young adults interviewed said that some staff had beaten them in the children’s institutions where they grew up.

Boris, 23, said that some staff members made him mop floors at night and also beat him and his friend:

There was one caregiver who made us clean the floors and the toilet. She would swear at us. She heard us complaining [about something] and she beat us with a crutch. I had a welt [after that].

Boris described other violence he experienced in the children’s institution:

They beat my head against a wall. I got a concussion. Three caregivers would beat me, they drank [alcohol] and beat everyone. They didn’t feed us and swore at us. If someone [defecated] in his pants, they would beat him with a stick.

When asked if he reported the abuse to anyone, Boris said, “I didn’t complain because that would just make it worse.” He also did not know to whom he could complain. “You can’t just go see the director,” he said.

Anara, now 30, described the violence she experienced in the children’s institution where she grew up: “[Staff] beat us up in there. They beat us with a mop. You’re not supposed to beat children with a mop!” She understood that staff beat her as punishment, if “for instance, [we] didn’t listen to them.” Anara said that, “It felt like they didn’t consider [us] people, but dogs or animals.”

Lack of Personalized Attention, Nurturing

In each of the three special children’s centers, rooms for children were organized by age, type of disability, or both, as well as by gender. Most rooms had between eight and 16 children, and about three staff members attending to them.

Under such circumstances, even the most dedicated staff face challenges providing the individualized attention and care that each child needs. This is especially true with respect to young children or children with high support needs, where children are given little or no opportunity or support for physical, emotional, or intellectual growth.

Studies have shown that a child’s healthy development depends on their ability to form emotional attachments to a caregiver. In his reporting on children deprived of their liberty, the UN special rapporteur on torture has noted that children “require emotional companionship and attention to flourish.” Human Rights Watch found that due to the grouping of large numbers of children, children’s special centers do not provide sufficient individualized care and nurturing.

Older Children Forced to Care for Younger Children

Current and former residents in multiple children’s institutions said that they were forced to assist caregivers, carrying out such tasks as feeding, changing diapers, bathing, and dressing younger children.

When Aiym lived in a closed children’s institution, she “had to help take care of other kids. It was hard. It was sad to see these children. One girl had a tube coming out of her stomach. It was hard.”

Nurbek, now 21, said: “In [the institution] I had to help with the children who don’t speak, who are lying down. I would help feed them, change their diapers. There were also kids in wheelchairs. Sometimes I had to carry them. I got mad because I was tired of doing this.”

Another former resident, Boris, 23, said: “[I was forced to] bathe and brush the teeth of other children. The staff would sit there and give us orders. Other kids also performed work. Even Serezha [not his real name] in a wheelchair was forced to work, to mop the floor.”

Three other young people described similar work. Nurgul, who lives in a special children’s center, said: “I always help out and support them. I dress [the young ones], put on their shoes, and wash them.”

Galym said that he “helped the caregivers to take care of the lying-down children. I mopped the floor, changed diapers.” For his assistance, Galym said that the caregivers sometimes gave him money or home-cooked food.

Denial of Education

Children and young adults who had lived in special children’s centers said that they received little or no education. Senior staff at the institutions Human Rights Watch visited confirmed that the vast majority of children living there did not go to school. They said some children attended “correctional” classes in the institutions. In correspondence with Human Rights Watch about education for children in closed children’s institutions, the Labor and Social Protection Ministry said that “children with psychiatric-neurological pathologies… have difficulty learning in special classes in special educational institutions” and are thus under the care of the social services system.

Lack of Play, Recreation

The children in the institutions visited lacked access to sufficient play and recreation, particularly children confined to their beds. All children in institutions follow a strict daily schedule, with defined meal and nap times, and spend the majority of their day indoors. Irina, 23, said that in the children’s institution where she had lived, “everywhere there were only bars. We were always within four walls. We never went anywhere on our own.”

Bakhyt, a 24-year-old who grew up in an institution, said, “They don’t let us walk around. I like to do things myself, but it’s not so easy. [If they’d let me] I would go to the movies. It’s interesting.”

Institution directors said that some of the center’s children leave the institutions for day outings, or particular events such as to attend a concert. It was not clear how frequently children participate in these activities, as the institutions have buses that can accommodate only 20 or 30 children, whereas more than 100 children lived in each of the institutions at the time.

Children Transferred to Adult Institutions Without Consent

By law, special children’s centers are intended for children ages 3 to 18. Staff at the Karaganda center said that 68 adults continued to live there because there was no room for them in the nearby adult institution. Young adults up to age 24 were living in the same rooms as young children.

Many of the young adults said that institution staff had arranged for their transfer to adult state residential institutions without their consent when or after they turned 18. Aigul Shakibaeva, a human rights activist and disabilities rights expert who has carried out research on the treatment of children and young adults with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, said that the vast majority of children transferred to adult institutions are deprived of their legal capacity, or the right to make decisions for themselves, without their knowledge.

A childhood spent in an institution can have serious negative consequences for the person institutionalized. Thinking back to her time in a children’s institution, Dilnaz, now in her 30s, said, “I wish they wouldn’t give shots or pills [in the institution]. I wish everything was good and fair. Sometimes it’s hard for me [still]. I sit at home and cry.”

Recommendations

The Kazakh government should:

  • Establish a time-bound plan to end the use of closed residential institutions for children with disabilities. Children should only be placed in any residential institution under the supervision of an independent judicial body, in emergency cases or to prevent the separation of siblings, and for a limited duration. Planned family reunification or placement in family-based alternative care should be the ultimate outcome for the child;
  • Systematically monitor institutions, prevent and remedy human rights abuses, including violence, the use of sedatives and physical restraints for punishment, control, or for staff convenience; and other abuses;
  • Develop quality, accessible community-based services for people with disabilities and families of children with disabilities;
  • Examine ways to reallocate government funds and programming from institutions to increase support for people with disabilities to live independently in their communities and for families to raise children with disabilities at home;
  • Pending phasing out these institutions, ensure that children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities living in state institutions have regular access to their families, ideally through home visits and access to inclusive education, adequate health care, rehabilitation, and play.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am