Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Breaking Barriers: European Court Judgment Exposes Discrimination and Abuse of Children with Disabilities in Moldova

By Validity Admin 26th March 2024


Today, the European Court of Human Rights issued a ground-breaking judgment in the case of V.I. v Moldova, highlighting critical issues of discrimination on the basis of disability and age which resulted in ill-treatment against a child with an intellectual disability. The Court found the problems to be systemic, requiring the government to take legal and policy actions to end future abuses. 

V.I.’s ordeal began the age of 13 when he was left without parental care. Following the closure of a boarding school where he was placed, he was then wrongly transferred to Codru psychiatric hospital under false pretences. Despite his protests, he was detained, against his will, subjected to heavy psychiatric medication without informed consent, and endured degrading treatment, including being placed in the adults’ section of the facility with his hands tied. 

In its judgment, the Court ruled that  the 14-year-old child, referred to as “V.I.” throughout the proceedings, had endured torture and discrimination based on disability and age due to his unlawful detention in a psychiatric hospital. The judgment highlighted the failure of the Moldovan state to provide adequate safeguards and mechanisms to protect the rights and well-being of children with disabilities in such situations.

The Court’s ruling sheds lights on systemic failures within Moldova’s legal framework, particularly concerning the involuntary placement of children with disabilities in psychiatric hospitals and the absence of independent safeguards to prevent abuse. It underscored the necessity for comprehensive reforms to protect the rights and dignity of such individuals, emphasising the state’s obligation to establish effective systems of protection for children with disabilities, and particularly that State authorities should stop subjecting such children to state detention and forced treatment.

The Court found that States have a heightened duty to protect children with disabilities such as the applicant who find themselves in the care of the State. According to the Court: “the existing Moldovan legal framework – which lacks the safeguard of an independent review of involuntary placement in a psychiatric hospital, involuntary psychiatric treatment, the use of chemical restraint, and other mechanisms to prevent such abuse of intellectually disabled persons in general and of children without parental care in particular – falls short of the requirement inherent in the State’s positive obligation to establish and apply effectively a system providing protection to such children against serious breaches of their integrity, contrary to Article 3 of the Convention.” Positive obligations relate to the State’s obligations to ensure support and assistance for persons with disabilities, and – in this situation – for a child with a disability.

The Court found the State liable for not providing a child-friendly procedure that involved the applicant in the decision-making process.  

The Validity Foundation and the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights (IDOM) – the two organisations representing the applicant before the Court – have a long-standing record of engagement in litigation on behalf of persons with disabilities, including children who are routinely discriminated on the ground of disability. This is the first case where the European Court found a violation of an applicant’s right not to be discriminated on the grounds of age and disability in a case concerning psychiatric detention. The Court accepted that V.I.’s detention was motivated by his disability, and this is impermissible under the European Convention on Human Rights.  

The Court further expressly called on the Moldovan authorities to take general measures aimed at reforming the system of involuntary placement in a psychiatric hospital and of involuntary psychiatric treatment of persons with intellectual disabilities, and in particular children.  This means that the government of Moldova has been told that it must take measures to prevent future abuses against children with disabilities in the country.

The Validity Foundation and IDOM welcome this judgment as an important step in the fight against discrimination of people with disabilities and coercive psychiatric practices, and the heightened obligations concerning the rights of children with disabilities. This outcome follows a long process where the Government attempted to have the case stuck out from the list of cases and minimised the seriousness of the human rights violations. It is now up to the Moldovan state to take action. We are hopeful that this judgment will have a positive impact for children with disabilities in Moldova and beyond, and that the authorities will take the necessary measures to eliminate coercion in psychiatry and provide appropriate community-based services and support.   

Ion Schidu, Validity’s Project Manager and former staff attorney with IDOM, represented the client in domestic proceedings. He shared some observations on the entire process:  

I met V.I. at his aunt’s house several weeks after he had been released from the psychiatric hospital. Despite being in a safe environment and being well cared for by his relatives, he was still terrified by what had happened to him. His aunt told me that he was afraid of being abandoned again in the psychiatric hospital, from which he may never return. 

I’ve been in constant contact with V.I. and his family for the past eight years. During this time, I learned about the positive events and developments in his new life. From the smallest things, like celebrating his birthday with his new friends at a nearby restaurant or going on his first date, to larger achievements, like getting a job or aspiring to earn more money to buying his own place, everything indicated that V.I. had a plan for his life and wanted to make the most of it.

Our shared hope is that this decision will radically change the way Moldovan authorities treat children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, particularly those in more vulnerable family situations. As was repeatedly stated during this trial, V.I., like all of other children, simply needed love, protection, and support on his journey to becoming the person he desires to be. States must delve deeper into the needs of these children and implement comprehensive and efficient solutions to provide them with the necessary protection and support they need to make the most of their blossoming lives. 

V.I. who now lives in Italy with his aunt.

Following the release of the judgment he shared:  

I had lost hope that justice could be done for me. I am happy to see that after all these years my story has finally been told. My hope is that no child will ever have to go through what I had to. I now look forward to a brighter future, leaving the dark times behind.”