Authoritarian regimes must be stopped from kidnapping and indoctrinating children

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Learn more about Igor Khrestin .
Igor Khrestin
Bradford M. Freeman Managing Director, Global Policy
George W. Bush Institute

Igor Khrestin, Bradford M. Freeman Managing Director of Global Policy at the Bush Institute, discusses how authoritarian regimes commit human rights abuses against children for their own gain and what the U.S. and international community must do to stop them.

As Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine enters its second year, the world is still discovering the true scope of the unfathomable barbarity of Russia’s aggression.  

Horrifically, the Russian government has “systematically relocated at least 6,000 children from Ukraine” and is holding them in 43 “re-education” camps on Russian territory, a Yale University’s School of Public Health report states. Ukrainian authorities have asserted that over 14,000 Ukrainian children have been abducted since the war started and only 125 returned to date. 

The practice of kidnapping and indoctrinating an enemy country’s children is as abhorrent as it is illegal under international law. It is banned under the Geneva Conventions and UN Security Council resolutions.    

At the center of this evil scheme is Maria Lvova-Belova, the Kremlin-appointed ombudswoman for “re-settling” Ukrainian children. In fact, she recently revealed that she “adopted” one such child herself from Mariupol, the city that Russian forces completely destroyed, by some estimates, killing as many as 25,000 civilians in the process. 

Lvova-Belova has already been sanctioned by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union for her role in facilitating the kidnapping of Ukrainian children.  But the international community must do more to stop this inhumane practice. This includes utilizing all diplomatic levers available to demand access for international organizations into these “re-education camps” and the establishment of an international tribunal to hold officials like Lvova-Belova and other Russian leaders responsible for these atrocities. 

However, the only long-term solution for stopping these evil crimes is to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion and restore its territorial integrity.  As the Bush Institute has argued, continuing support for Ukraine is not only the right thing to do, but is vital to the national security of the United States. 

Russia’s crimes in Ukraine are emblematic of human rights abuses under other authoritarian regimes. The UN recently documented that over 1 million Tibetan children have been separated from their parents by the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese government has also detained more than 1 million Uyghurs, including children, in “re-education” camps, a practice which led the State Department to accuse China of committing genocide against the Uyghurs. The Bush Institute has hosted brave advocates like Rushan Abbas to discuss these crimes and to call for action. 

Ultimately, authoritarian regimes like Russia and China kidnap and indoctrinate children because there is lack of democratic accountability in these societies. As Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel said, “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” Every civilized nation and persons of conscience should condemn human rights abuses, especially against children, and take action to stop them.