Kyiv claims 20,000 children have been taken from Ukraine to Russia without families’ or guardians’ consent.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged Russia to end the forcible transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine and return them to their families.
Last month, a panel of 18 independent experts pressed Russia on deportation allegations while reviewing its record.
Their conclusions, published on Thursday, called on Russia to “put an end to the forcible transfer or deportation of children from occupied Ukrainian territory”.
Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, has argued that “placements for evacuated children are arranged, first and foremost, at their request and with their consent”.
Yet Kyiv has alleged that 20,000 children have been taken from Ukraine to Russia without the consent of their families or guardians, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged illegal deportation of children, an accusation the Kremlin denies.
Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, is also accused of abducting children from Ukraine and has been issued an arrest warrant by the ICC.
The UN committee demanded that Moscow investigate war crimes allegations against Lvova-Belova but did not mention Putin.
The committee also asked Moscow to provide information about how many children were taken from Ukraine and where they are living, so “parents or legal representatives can track them, including through identification of such children and registration of their parentage, and ensure that children are returned to their families and communities as soon as possible”.
They expressed concern at the impact that Russia’s war in Ukraine is having on children, outlining the “killings and injuries of hundreds of children as a result of indiscriminate attacks … with explosive weapons”.
However, Russia has argued that it has only been protecting vulnerable children from a warzone.
In January’s hearing in Geneva, the head of the Russian delegation, Alexey Vovchenko, the labour and social protection deputy minister, denied that any Ukrainians were forcibly removed from their country. He said 4.8 million residents of Ukraine, including 770,000 children, had been taken in by Russia.
But UN committee chairperson Ann Skelton said the committee members and the Russian delegation had been “talking past one another” at the meeting.
“We found often in the dialogue that we were using one type of terminology and they were using another,” she said.
“We were using the word ‘adoption’, and they were denying that it’s adoption and talking about ‘fostering children’.”
Last year, the UN added Russia to a list of countries that violate children’s rights in conflicts, referencing boys and girls who were killed during attacks on schools and hospitals in Ukraine.