02.04.2003 - Interview
Abandoned by their families because of their disabilities or because their parents are unable to look after them, hundreds of thousands of children are still languishing in orphanages or other institutions unsuited to their conditions. More often than not, they only leave these institutions to end up on the street or in the asylums. The British Liberal MP, Mike Hancock, urges Europe to take action to improve their lot.
Question : Your report, which concentrates on Romania, Bulgaria and Russia, advocates the immediate closure of large numbers of these institutions. What are they to be replaced with?
Mike Hancock : In these countries at least half these institutions are insalubrious orphanages with 10- to 40-bed dormitories. Healthy children are placed here alongside children with varying degrees of physical and mental disabilities, supervised by unmotivated, unqualified staff. The children entering these orphanages come out again in much worse health and greater dependency than on their original admission. These institutions must be closed down as a matter of the greatest urgency in order to treat the sick or severely disabled children in real hospitals and place the others in foster homes or in small, specially adapted units.
Question : How are we to encourage such measures, especially in view of the economic realities of the “countries in transition”?
Mike Hancock: First of all, a country which can afford to join NATO can and must look after its own children: if it does not love them it has no right to call itself civilised! It is always profitable in the long term to close down the more dilapidated orphanages. And experience has shown that the countries which actually take care of their children are also those which subsequently attract the greatest support from the international community. The countries mentioned in my report have already made some headway, but they must continue their efforts.
Question: Apart from shutting down the orphanages, how else can we improve the lot of the healthy or disabled children consigned to these institutions?
Mike Hancock : In addition to providing decent, suitable premises, we must also ensure that they have properly trained staff. However, we must also revise and tighten up the admission procedures, ensuring that any admission is really justified. The children should be protected by independent ombudsmen, who would ensure that their rights are respected and decide on the legitimacy of their placement in the institutions. Families must also be trained and supported in order to prevent abandonment, and family planning and sex education should be promoted, as these two aspects are completely lacking in many countries where young people start having sex very early on. Couples must be taught to avoid conceiving six children when they know that there is no decent future for them!
Question: Do the types of institution you denounce in your report exist in other countries apart from the three you mention?
Mike Hancock : Unfortunately, many other countries have fallen down completely in terms of helping orphans and children with disabilities. This is one of the most distressing problems in Europe, and it concerns everyone. The fact is that if we do not love our own children we are demeaning ourselves!