The solution

Most countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States rely both on the Chisinau Agreement, which regulates procedures, logistics and financial matters relating to the transfer of unaccompanied children in the CIS, as well as on domestic law, to determine the treatment of unaccompanied children. To address the situation of unaccompanied children effectively, reform needs to take place on both fronts.

The following suggestions would help to clarify gaps in the Chisinau Agreement and national laws which are currently left open for States to interpret; provide more concrete obligations for States; and align the Agreement and domestic law with international human rights standards, notably the CRC.

a) Change the definition of unaccompanied children to reflect international standards

The Chisinau Agreement currently uses an overly-broad definition of unaccompanied children, which does not distinguish between unaccompanied and separated children or other categories of children who are deprived of their family environment. A definition separating these two groups would ensure a more speedy reunification of the child with their guardian or parents. It also would reduce the likelihood of these children being criminalised.

b) Include the main principles of the CRC

The Chisinau Agreement and national laws, including regulations on transit or other temporary detention centres, should mirror some of the main provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and should have a separate provision that States should be guided by the best interests of the child. Furthermore, unaccompanied children should be given a priority in the allocation of resources because of their heightened vulnerability to a range of rights violations, including trafficking.

c) Challenge the definition of ‘specialised centres’

The Chisinau Agreement should set out a more precise time frame in which an unaccompanied child may be kept in “specialised institutions”. There should be an explicit statement that children may only be held in these institutions for the shortest possible length of time and set out a maximum period.

On a national level, a good starting point for making the system more humane is to ensure that oversight of transit centres lies firmly with educational or social institutions, such as the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Health and Social Protection, rather than law enforcement bodies, such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

d) Provide alternatives to detention

Under no circumstances should children be held in detention centres or police cells with adults. National law should assert that unaccompanied children should not be detained at all. Instead, alternatives should be available which provide children with a place to stay which respects all their rights and where they stay with their own free will. When children cannot be reunited with their family, alternatives to institutionalisation should be available, such as placement with foster families or adoption.

National law should ensure adequate conditions for children while they are in a foreign country awaiting a decision on deportation or reunification with their parents. This includes fulfilling their right to education and access to books in a language the child understands, adequate access to health care, psychological assistance, leisure and other recreational activities. Children should have access to the internet and the external world, with attention to their safety. However, safety should not be used as a justification for restricting the rights and freedoms of children.