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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality



8. Rights of the Poor


PART I. National Frameworks for the Protection of Rights of Persons with Disabilities
PART II. The International Human Rights System
PART III. The Regional Human Rights System
PART IV. Towards a Rights Based Perspective on Disability
PART V. Rights of Special Groups with Disabilities
1. Rights of the Child
1.1 General International Instruments Pertaining to the Rights of the Child
1.2 General Regional Instruments Pertaining to the Rights of the Child
1.3 International Instruments Specifically Relating to Children with Disabilities
2. Rights of the Youth
3. Rights of the Aged
4. Rights of Women with Disabilities
4.1 The Situation
4.2 International Norms Concerning Women with Disabilities
4.3 Regional Instruments pertaining to Women with Disabilities
5. Rights of Refugees with Disabilities
5.1 Rights of Refugee Children
5.2 Rights of Refugee Women
5.3 Regional Instruments Applicable to Refugees
6. Rights of Indigenous Populations
7. Rights of Ethnic Minorities
8. Rights of the Poor
8.1 Disability and Poverty
8.2 United Nations instruments and measures for the eradication of poverty
9. Rights of Migrant Workers
9.1 United Nations Provisions on the Migrant Worker
9.2 Regional Instruments Pertaining to the Rights of the Migrant Worker

8.1 Disability and Poverty

Poverty can greatly increase the chance of a person becoming disabled, and a person with disabilities has a greater chance of experiencing poverty. There are many reasons why those who are living in poverty experience more disabilities than those who are not poor. Among these are:

  1. Poor people may not have adequate food;
  2. They may live in unhealthy environments;
  3. They may have low-paying or dangerous jobs, if any at all; they may be victims of violence;
  4. They have less access to medical treatment;
  5. They are less educated and, therefore, may not learn about treatment.
  6. Poor people lack access to information, influence and resources, which may cause them to live in poor living conditions and without proper medical care.

8.2 United Nations instruments and measures for the eradication of poverty

The whole United Nations system has a major role to play in the area of eradicating poverty. Addressing poverty issues has been the major theme at many United Nations International Conferences such as:

  • The World Summit for Children (New York 1991)
  • The Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992)
  • The World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993)
  • The International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994)
  • The Social Summit (Copenhagen, 1995)
  • The Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995); and
  • The United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) (Istanbul, 1996)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supports programmes that assist governments and organisations of civil society in developing economic and social policies and programmes to address the whole range of factors that contribute to poverty. These programmes seek to increase food security, improve the availability and quality of shelter and basic services, and generate opportunities and sustainable livelihoods. UNDP assistance supports efforts to identify and prioritise poverty eradication needs at the country level, targeting current gaps and weaknesses in the capacity of government and civil society institutions to address poverty issues.

In 1992, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (General Assembly resolution 50/176 of December 1992). The United Nations proclaimed the year of 1996 as the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty (General Assembly resolution 48/183 of December 1993). The General Assembly recognised that "…poverty is a complex and multi-dimensional problem with origins in both the national and international dimensions, and that its eradication in all countries, in particular in developing countries, has become one of the priority development objectives for the 1990's in order to promote sustainable development." The United Nations then proclaimed the period from 1997 to 2006 as the First United Nations International Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (General Assembly resolution 50/107 of December 1995). The General Assembly decided by resolution that in 1996 that the theme would be the eradication of poverty as an "…ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind" (General Assembly resolution 51/178 of December 1996). The resolution also declared Poverty, environment, and development as the theme for 1997 and Poverty, human rights and development as the theme for 1998. The objective for the decade is to eradicate absolute poverty, and reduce overall global poverty through decisive national action and international co-operation in implementing fully and effectively all relevant agreements, commitments and recommendations of major United Nations conferences since 1990. The General Assembly recommended that the causes of poverty be addressed through action in the areas of environment, food security, population, migration, health, shelter, human resources development including clean water and sanitation, rural development and productive development, and by addressing the needs of vulnerable groups.

In order to help eradicate this problem of poverty and its endless cycle, Governments may turn to several instruments for assistance and guidance.

Commitment 2 of The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action provides that States commit themselves to eradicate poverty. In this context, the States must take efforts to provide for the basic needs of all. Moreover, pursuant to commitment 2, at the national level States must ensure that people living in poverty have access to productive resources, including credit, land, education and training, technology, knowledge and information, as well as public services. At the international level, states must "…strive to ensure that the international community and international organisations, in particular, the multilateral financial institutions, assist developing countries in need in their efforts to achieve our overall goal of eradicating poverty and ensuring basic social protection." (emphasis added).

Article 15 (h) states that "…one of the world's largest minorities, more than one in 10, are people with disabilities, who are too often forced into poverty, unemployment and social isolation." (emphasis added). In the Declaration, the participating governments commit to eradicate poverty.

Paragraph 23 provides that "…poverty has various causes, including structural ones. Poverty is a complex multi-dimensional problem with origins in both the national and international domains. No uniform solution can be found to tackle poverty and international efforts supporting national efforts, as well as the parallel process of creating a supportive international environment, are crucial for a solution to this problem (…). The eradication of poverty cannot be accomplished through anti-poverty programmes alone, but will require democratic participation and changes in economic structures in order to ensure access for all to resources and opportunities." (emphasis added).

Paragraph 27 states that "The international community, the United Nations, the multilateral financial institutions, all regional organisations and local authorities, and all actors of civil society need to positively contribute their own share of efforts and resources in order to reduce inequalities among people."

Paragraph 82 states: "Nothing short of renewed and massive political will at the national and international levels to invest in people and their well-being will achieve the objectives of social development."

Paragraph 96 talks about the need for inter-agency collaboration and states that "The United Nations system, including technical and sectoral agencies and the Bretton Woods institutions, should expand and improve their co-operation in the field of social development to ensure that their efforts are complementary and, where possible, should combine resources in joint initiatives for social development built around common objectives of the Summit."

As articulated by the World Summit for Social Development, the eradication of poverty requires political commitment and action among all sectors of society.

Articles 5-6 of the Beijing Declaration recognise that the unequal status of men and women is due in large part to the increasing poverty that is affecting the lives of the majority of the world's people, including women and children. Article 26 focuses on measures to address poverty.

The United Nations Report of the World Social Situation 1997 sets forth national strategies for dealing with the eradication of poverty:

  1. Promoting the high and sustained rates of economic expansion and employment creation through policies designed to create an enabling environment for poverty reduction;
  2. Increasing incomes and participation in the economy by the unemployed and working poor through targeted measures to improve their skills and training and upgrade their health status and living conditions;
  3. Expanding opportunities for the poor to engage in gainful economic activity by widening their access to land, credit and other productive factors;
  4. Targeting those localities and intervening in those areas where the poor reside and where needs are greatest in terms of priorities for poverty reduction;
  5. Addressing the pressing economic and social problems of the aged, the disabled, the infirm and those otherwise unable to engage in productive activity through programmes of public assistance and income maintenance.
  6. Channelling the benefits from increased participation in the world economy towards the poorest segments of the population through policies promoting an expansion of labour-intensive exports and a reduction of trade restriction on consumer goods.

Article 4 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provides that "…special attention should be given to assisting the poor so as to enable them to assert their rights and where necessary call upon the assistance of lawyers."

The United Nations Millennium Declaration gives guidelines for poverty eradication and development, and sets concrete goals. To implement the Declaration, the international community has agreed on Millennium Development Goals, which include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, developing a global partnership for development.

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