Early Investment in Children with Disabilities among Measures Proposed as Conference of States Parties Continues Session

13 September 2012
HR/5107

Early Investment in Children with Disabilities among Measures Proposed as Conference of States Parties Continues Session

13 September 2012
General Assembly
HR/5107
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

States Parties to Convention

 on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

3rd Meeting (AM)

Early Investment in Children with Disabilities among Measures Proposed

As Conference of States Parties Continues Session

 

Delegates, United Nations System Officials Hold Round Table, Continue Debate

Investing in children with disabilities during the early stage of their development was among the many practical measures that Member States should take, United Nations officials and delegates said today, as the fifth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities continued.

“We need to start with the best start in children’s life,” said Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, during a panel discussion on the second day of the Conference.  A good example of such an investment was Jamaica’s programme to support parents in child-rearing through such measures as providing assistance to improve their knowledge, skills and confidence, and helping them minimize the risks of disability and violence through early detection, she added.

Hendrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu, South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, turned to the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, saying:  “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”  She said 108 ordinary schools in her country had been physically upgraded between 2006 and 2011 to ensure compliance with the principles of universal design, and about 94 per cent of children with disabilities aged 7-15 years had attended an educational institution in 2010, up from 73 per cent in 2002.

Nick Alipui, Director of Programmes with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the agency was helping to publicize the Convention.  “We see absolutely no reason why there should be a difference in the level of ratification” between the disabilities instrument and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he emphasized.  The Fund had also decided to focus the 2013 edition of its flagship survey, State of the World’s Children, on the issue of children and youth with disabilities.

Ximena Rivas, Director of Chile’s National Service for Disability, said that while her country’s Government had made institutions and standards consistent with the disabilities treaty, the cultural change inherent in that new approach had not yet been fully completed.  Chile had established an intersectoral network to meet educational needs, but much remained to be done in the region as a whole, she stressed.

Jenny Nilsson, President of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section, recognized 10 to 15 participants below the age of 30 in the audience by eye count, but said she was disappointed that there were so few of them.  “Traditionally, children and young people with disabilities were not involved in decision-making processes,” she said, noting that decisions used to be made by adults on the basis of their own assumptions and without seeking the opinions of children and youth.  While it was often said that young people were the future, they were living today, and encountered various barriers.  Their commitment and expertise was often overlooked, or not taken seriously enough, she said, calling on national Governments to include them in consultations as natural and equal partners. 

A 14-year-old Indian boy with a disability also addressed the round-table discussion, sharing his story of attending an inclusive school in which teachers had been there to help him “without being overprotective”.  He had made friends, as he was determined not to let his disability slow down his life, he recalled, stressing:  “Fears and inhibitions are in the mind.”

In the subsequent interactive session, delegates raised a number of questions, including one about the link between learning sign language and learning to read and write.  Ms. Nilsson said bilingual education – learning in both sign and a particular national language – was a human right that eventually opened the door to good employment opportunities for deaf people.  “Any policy that bans sign language is absolutely a violation of human rights,” she emphasized.

A number of speakers raised, among other issues, the matter of violence against children with disabilities, calling for strong mechanisms that would enable them to report such criminal acts.

Earlier today, delegates continued the general debate, with the representative of the European Union delegation saying that the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 supported the national efforts of the bloc’s member States.  Within that framework, European Union institutions and member States worked together to build a barrier-free Europe in which all could enjoy access to the physical environment, to transport, and to information and communications technologies.

Syria’s representative said her country paid special attention to improving the situation of persons with disabilities as part of its overall commitment to human rights, but Israel prevented persons with disabilities and others living in the occupied Syrian Golan from enjoying their rights.

Speaking later in exercise of the right of reply, Israel’s representative said the Syrian Government was inflicting human rights abuses “as we speak”, adding that it was incredible that her Syrian counterpart could raise such issues.

Also participating in the general debate were representatives of the Republic of Korea, India, Spain, Panama and Cyprus.

The Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 14 September, for an interactive dialogue on implementation of the Convention by the United Nations system, and to conclude its session.

Background

The Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities met for the second day of its three-day session this morning, under the overarching theme “Making the CRPD Count for Women and Children with Disabilities”.  Delegates were expected to continue the general debate before participating in a round-table discussion on “Children with Disabilities”.

Adopted by the General Assembly on 13 December 2006, the Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008.  Of the instrument’s current 153 signatories, 119 States parties have acceded to or ratified the treaty, while 72 out of 90 signatories have acceded to or ratified its Optional Protocol.  The latter allows individuals and organizations of persons with disabilities to submit complaints to an expert United Nations committee on non-compliance with the Convention.  (For additional information, please see Press Release HR/5105 of 12 September.)

Statements

MS. ALSALEH ( Syria) said her country paid special attention to improving the situation of persons with disabilities as part of its overall commitment to human rights.  Calling special attention to the Israeli occupation, she said it prevented persons with disabilities and others living in the occupied Syrian Golan from enjoying their rights.  That territory contained more than 2 million landmines which had killed or disabled many people, including women and children.  Certain embargoes on medical supplies and equipment such as wheelchairs also deprived persons with disabilities of their rights, she said.

JOHAN TEN GEUZENDAM, European Union delegation, said the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 supported the national efforts of the bloc’s member States.  Within that framework, European Union institutions and member States worked together to build a barrier-free Europe for all:  accessibility to the physical environment, to transport and to information and communications technologies.  Since 2008, the European Commission had published an annual report on implementation of the Convention, focusing on various thematic areas and issues of governance, she said, adding that the 2012 report highlighted national legal and regulatory frameworks for improving accessibility.

He went on to say the European Commission was preparing a proposal for the establishment of a regional framework for accessible goods and services, with the aim of improving accessibility to goods and services for persons with disabilities and elderly persons, on the basis of a “design for all” approach.  That business-friendly initiative may include provisions on accessibility in public procurement and on the harmonization of accessibility standards at the European level.  It would be designed to contribute to the objectives of economic growth and employment, and to reach the Europe 2020 targets.  Whenever the European Commission, in preparing new legislation or other measures, needed to make an impact assessment, it was also bound to verify compliance with the Convention, he said.

SHIN DONG-IK (Republic of Korea) said his country’s Government had been exerting its utmost efforts to implement the Convention since ratifying the treaty in December 2008.  Enacted in 2011 to provide comprehensive support, the Welfare Assistance Act for Children with Disabilities stipulated the obligations of the national Government, as well as local authorities to take the necessary measures in support of such children and their families, he said, noting that the Government provided “disabled child allowance” and “free child-care benefits” to ensure stable living conditions.

Turning to the protection of the rights of women with disabilities, he said the Act on Anti-Discrimination against and Remedies for Persons with Disabilities underlined that educational and vocational training institutions must not discriminate against women with disabilities.  Furthermore, the Act on Promotion of Convenience for the Disabled, Senior Citizens, and Pregnant Women stipulated that building owners must install convenience facilities to ensure easy access for persons with disabilities.  Additionally, individuals, corporations and public institutions must provide reasonable accommodations, such as sign language interpreters and vocal interpreters to ensure that persons with disabilities could access and use electronic and non-electronic information on an equal basis as those without disabilities.

NIDHI KHARE, Director, Department of Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of India, stressed that focusing on women and children was particularly relevant, as their disability-related challenges were further compounded.  The Government of India had recognized early on the necessity of specific policy intervention and had established a legislative framework with the Persons with Disabilities Act, passed in 1995, a year before the Convention was drafted.  The Act recognized persons with disabilities as a valuable human resource in all strata of society, she said.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment was working with several other ministries by coordinating and implementing relevant programs and schemes relating to education and employment, she continued.  Among other legislative and institutional efforts, the Act had been supplemented by the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, announced in 2006, which focused on issues concerning women and children with disabilities.  In 2009, the Right to Education Act had mandated free and compulsory elementary education for all special-needs children up to the age of 18 years.  Further, India had established seven national institutes and seven composite regional centres for promotion and training purposes in regard to disability, she said.

MR. TREMINO ( Spain) expressed his pleasure in seeing increasing numbers of people with disabilities participating in the Conference of States Parties.  That was clear evidence that they were the only ones who really knew how to work for their own rights.  Spain had launched a national policy for the period 2012-2020, incorporating the recommendations and conclusions of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and was now working on a renewed commitment to human rights overall.  Despite a very difficult budgetary situation, specific measures were being taken to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making, and in realizing their rights generally.  Spain was also formulating a general law on disabilities, which would be a compilation of all legislative norms and standards enacted in that area so far.

MR. ALEMAN ARIAS ( Panama) said his country had taken major initiatives to ensure compliance with the Convention, including establishing an autonomous institution for persons with disabilities, with their full participation.  Panama was pursuing a national policy to benefit the 370,000 persons with disabilities, he said, briefly describing some of the actions that entailed.  Among them was its signature of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and accession to other major international treaties.  It was promoting the participation of women in decision-making with a view to increasing their empowerment.  At the national level, forums on technology and disability had been created with a view to providing new opportunities for persons with disabilities and their family members, he said.  The National Disability Ministry had received a budget of $8.5 million this year, and was working with other ministries and non-governmental stakeholders.

MARIA IOANNOU ( Cyprus), associating herself with the European Union, said her country was participating in the Conference for the first time.  The Government had ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol in 2011, and they were being integrated into national programmes and guidelines.  Measures taken by the Government included designating a ministry to address disability issues as well as a technical committee monitoring the action plan.  Despite the progress made, however, there was a long way to go, she said.  However, Cyprus viewed the Convention as a roadmap for the decades ahead for persons with disabilities, including women and children.

Round Table on Children with Disabilities

Chaired by Raymond Wolfe (Jamaica), the round-table discussion featured panellists Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities of South Africa; Nick Alipui, Director of Programmes, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children; Jenny Nilsson, President, World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section; and Ximena Rivas, Director, National Service for Disability of Chile.

Mr. WOLFE ( Jamaica) described children as “among the most vulnerable groups in society”, and said those with disabilities required special care and attention.  Yet all too often, they were subjected to discrimination and were among society’s most marginalized and excluded members.  They were less likely to attend school, access medical services or otherwise participate socially, he said, calling for a “rich discussion” on those and related issues.

Ms. BOGOPANE-ZULU said she had grown up as a disabled person and that gave her the authority to speak on the topic under discussion.  Borrowing the words of Nelson Mandela, she said “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.  If delegates focused on a number of priorities, they would be able to return for the 2013 sixth Conference of States Parties with concrete evidence of a difference made to the lives and futures of children with disabilities.  Those priorities included consolidating global, regional and country-level efforts to change attitudes towards people with disabilities in general; strengthening capacity at all levels as well as universal-access mechanisms and design measures and standards at the planning, implementation and enforcement levels; accelerating global, regional and national efforts to build vibrant movements for parents and disable youth; providing meaningful and appropriate platforms to enable children with disabilities to represent themselves.

On education, she said 108 ordinary schools in her country had been physically upgraded between 2006 and 2011 to ensure compliance with the principles of universal design while serving as model full-service-inclusive schools.  South Africa’s provinces had committed funds to the conversion of a further 405 to so-called full-service schools by 2014.  About 94 per cent of children with disabilities aged 7-15 years had attended an educational institution in 2010, up from 73 per cent in 2002, she said, noting, however, that the same could regrettably not be said of children with disabilities in the 16-18 age group.  In 2010, 68 per cent of children with disabilities within that age group had attended an educational institution, up from the 2002 figure of 51 per cent, but far below the 2010 figure of 83 per cent for all children in the age group, she said.  Lack of access to sufficient and appropriate early intervention during early-childhood years, as well as inaccessible public transport in rural areas, remained major challenges requiring attention.

A survey of a rural community had found that only 42 per cent of the children with disabilities identified were receiving rehabilitation, and only 33 per cent had the assistive devices they required, she continued.  As for family support, South Africa had an extensive social security network for indigent families, she said, adding that those with disabled children qualified for child-support grants for all children aged up to 14 years.  Highlighting South Africa’s efforts on child participation and access to justice, she said the Children Act 38 of 2005 recognized the special needs of children with disabilities, and called for all proceedings, actions or decisions concerning children to protect them from unfair discrimination on grounds of their own disability or that of a family member.  Concluding her statement, she quoted Mahatma Gandhi:  “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”

Mr. ALIPUI, noting that the Convention had been speedily ratified by many countries, said he also recognized the strong partnership and cooperation forged among many actors, including organizations of persons with disabilities and other stakeholders.  Despite those strides, however, children with disabilities continued to face discrimination in every aspect of their lives, suffering widespread violence and denial of their rights and dignity.  “It is now absolutely clear that this discrimination arises not from the intrinsic nature of children’s disabilities […] but from social isolation, prejudice, lack of services and lack of support,” he said.

He said there were major social costs relating to the exclusion of children with disabilities, as adults with disabilities were often poorer than those without.  However, education had been found to level that playing field.  The current global economic and financial crisis had deepened the divide, while also threatening the goal of accelerating action towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  The Convention, however, provided a comprehensive framework for defending the rights of persons with disabilities, he said, stressing that the links between the disabilities instrument and the Convention on the Rights of the Child should be explored further.  Moreover, they should be applied in a holistic manner to ensure that their implementation did not compete for attention or resources.

Pursuing the rights of children with disabilities could be viewed as an investment and a “requirement for development”, he continued.  While the international community had increasingly recognized that nexus, there remained a need to make development processes more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.  There was also an urgent need to re-energize international commitment to children, including the most marginalized and neglected.  UNICEF’s work on disability issues formed part of an United Nations-wide focus on equity, he said, adding that the strategy sought to understand and address the root causes of inequity and bottlenecks that entrenched children in poverty.  “We see absolutely no reason why there should be a difference in the level of ratification” between the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the disabilities treaty, he stressed.

UNICEF was helping to publicize the latter, including by publishing a child-friendly version translated into 17 different languages, he continued.  The Fund had increased its assistance to countries reporting on the Convention’s implementation, and was helping to build capacity and elaborate national action plans.  It had undertaken a series of structural and other measures aimed at making its programmes more accessible to children with disabilities and their families.  It had further provided guidance to all staff, developing a global disability strategy that it hoped would be picked up by its partners working in the field.  Significantly, UNICEF had decided to focus the 2013 edition of its flagship survey, State of the World’s Children, on the issue of children and youth with disabilities, he said.  “That has been a major breakthrough,” he said, describing the publication as one of the Fund’s most authoritative annual statements.

Ms. SANTOS PAIS said the area of preventing and addressing violence against children with disabilities had been largely neglected, and urgent efforts were needed, at the international and national levels.  Fortunately, there was reason for hope, given the increasing attention to that question over the recent past.  The 2011 General Assembly debate on children’s rights illustrated that well, as did the wide ratification and mutually supportive implementation of the child rights and disability treaties as well as their respective Optional Protocols.  Those instruments were strong indications of the international community’s commitment, she said, adding that they constituted a strong reference for the mandates of many stakeholders, including hers as Special Representative on Violence against Children.

She went on to note that while data on violence against children with disabilities was scarce, available research showed that between 500 million and 1.5 billion children suffered some form of violence every year.  It took place in all contexts, including those in which children were expected to enjoy a secure environment and special protection, such as schools, justice and care institutions and even homes.  The phenomenon was associated with high human and economic costs for victims, their families and society as a whole.  Children with disabilities were at heightened risk of violence, including as a result of stigma, social prejudices, ill-perception and discrimination.  For the families of such children, challenging child-rearing responsibilities were met with a sense of isolation and deprivation, she said.  They lacked support and access to services, were faced with high transportation and other expenses, and were confined at home to take care of those children.

But there was hope, she said, pointing out that in countries like Brazil, there was strong coordination across governmental departments to promote an inclusive approach to children’s rights and protection.  Many other countries that had made progress included Finland, Slovakia, Serbia, Jordan, Grenada, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Republic of Tanzania and Croatia, to name a few.  Looking ahead, she highlighted several key points, including the importance of the best start in a child’s life.  Investing in early-childhood development and education was critical, she said, adding that Jamaica was a very good example in that regard.  Emphasizing the importance of birth registration, she also underscored the need for improved public awareness, appropriate legislation, involvement and participation by children, and a faster process for ratifying core human rights treaties.

Ms. RIVAS noted that States and the international community were moving towards respect for the rights of children with disabilities, but not enough strides had been made to ensure that those children enjoyed their rights, from infancy.  The most recent world study on disability had found that persons with disabilities made up about 15 per cent of the global population, she noted.  However, related figures were worrying, as a majority of children with disabilities did not attend school.  The entire Latin America region had seen legislative on “special standards”, she said, adding that some Governments in the region had successfully dealt with many of the basic causes of disabilities, although the demands of those living with disabilities had not yet been met.

Stressing the need to introduce infant care as a Government policy, she said the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities stated that parties should give priority to all forms of preventable disability, and provide early care, vocational training and other support efforts.  There was a new shift towards a more rights-based model and towards a systematized approach involving the family in a social context.  A new psycho-educational model provided an integrated, holistic approach that entailed various social support structures.

Chile’s institutions and standards had been made consistent with the Convention, but the cultural change inherent in that new approach – while moving in the right direction — had not yet been fully completed, she said.  There was a greater recognition of the legal rights of children with disabilities, and Chile had established an intersectoral network to meet their educational needs.  Much remained to be done in the region as a whole, including early detection, good medical care and access to education equal to that of other children, she cautioned.  There was a need for networks that would bring together and optimize resources for inclusive education, she said, adding that such an approach should also recognize and respond to needs across the lifespan of people with disabilities.  “We believe in self-determination,” she said, calling upon States to ensure that persons with disabilities were exercising that critical right.

Ms. NILSSON, speaking in sign language, said her organization, the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section, sought to raise knowledge of the possibilities for promoting the evolving capacity of children with disabilities, and to ensure their participation in decision-making processes concerning children and youth with disabilities.  After asking audience members to raise their hands if they were under the age of 30, she recognized 10 to 15 participants in that age group by eye count, noting “so few”.  Traditionally, children and young people with disabilities had not been involved in decision-making processes, she said, adding that decision used to be made by adults on the basis of their own assumptions and without seeking the opinions of children and youth with disabilities.

The World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section represented young people with disabilities who were experts on various barriers in daily life.  It was often said that young people were the future, but they were living today and encountered various barriers.  Their commitment and expertise was often overlooked, or not taken seriously enough, she said, calling on national Governments to include them in consultation as natural and equal partners.  Article 7 of the Convention required States parties to ensure that children with disabilities had the right to express their views freely on all matters affecting them, which would help them to feel accepted as equals and respected in their communities.  She asked States parties to ensure that deaf children and youths receive quality instruction in sign language, their “mother tongue”.  She also urged delegates to consult with their capitals on the involvement of young people, and to bring a larger group of participants under the age of 30 to the next Conference.

A 14-year-old youth with a disability, from India, then shared his story of attending an accessible school in which teachers had been there to help him, “without being overprotective” or making him “feel bad”.  Determined not to let his disability slow down his life, he had made friends, went on school trips and today was a member of the chess team.  “Fears and inhibitions are in the mind,” he stressed.

During the ensuing question-and-answer session, a number of speakers requested examples of strong legislation on the rights of children with disabilities that might easily be replicated in other countries, while others agreed that there was a need to more fully integrate the perspective of young people who could become “self advocates” today and in the future.

The representative of Egypt asked about ways to raise awareness of children with disabilities among parents and school staff, while his counterpart from Panama asked about the relationship between learning sign language and learning to read and write.  She also asked how Chile had organized the care it provided to young children.  Still other delegates sought further clarification on the meaning of “inclusive education”, as opposed to what one termed “segregated education”.  Meanwhile, a number of speakers raised the question of violence against children with disabilities, calling for strong mechanisms for report such criminal acts.

Ms. NILSSON, responding to the representative of Panama, said the use of bilingual education – education in both sign language and that of a particular country – was a human right.  That type of education allowed deaf people to learn how to read and write, eventually opening the door to good employment opportunities.  Therefore, “any policy that bans sign language is absolutely a violation of human rights,” she emphasized.

Ms. SANTOS PAIS stressed the need for all countries to have effective mechanisms in place to enable children with disabilities who had been victims of violence to tell their story, and gain access to justice.  No such mechanism was in place in most countries, she said.

Ms. BOGOPANE-ZULU agreed with Ms. Nilsson that learning sign language was a critical human right for all deaf children.  On legislation, she said the fundamental aspect was that persons with disabilities must be included in existing legislation, warning against the creation of a “little separate corner [of law] that will never get funded”.

Ms. RIVAS also responded to Panama’s representative, stressing the importance of intersectoral work in early childhood.  Like other countries, Chile required additional funding for that work, and was looking to private sector partnerships, she said.

Mr. ALIPUI’s representative said UNICEF would be glad to work with the Government of Egypt on its national efforts, adding that the latter should approach the UNICEF country office in that regard.

Following those responses, delegates raised issues including the possibility of establishing more concrete mechanisms for increasing participation in government by children with disabilities.

The representative of Guatemala requested information about UNICEF’s translation of essential documents on disability into indigenous languages of Latin America, while others asked for additional information about educational programmes for children with intellectual disabilities, and the availability of budgets for inclusive education.

Ms. NILSSON responded by saying that children with mental disabilities should be in schools that had the proper services, and should be consulted about the types of services they needed.

Ms. SANTOS PAIS, responding to the question of ensuring the participation of young people, said numerous organizations were engaged in that pursuit.  “We should not try to create something parallel,” she said, adding that efforts should instead be based on those already working in that area.

Ms. BOGOPANE-ZULU reinforced that point, describing the different ways of integrating children’s perspectives into decision-making, including by holding working groups and creating child parliaments.  On budgets, she reiterated that disability must be integrated into existing issues and budgets in order to avoid segregation.

Ms. RIVAS stressed the importance of working closely with the parents of children with disabilities, who could sometimes be protective “in a world that can be very unfair to them”.

Mr. ALIPUI’s representative said UNICEF’s work was very decentralized, and encouraged delegates with questions to contact the appropriate country offices.

Representatives of Kenya, Senegal, Argentina, Jamaica, Republic of Korea, Guatemala, Sweden, Niger, Nigeria, Peru and Sudan also spoke during the interactive segment, as did those of a number of civil society entities and organizations of persons with disabilities.

Right of Reply

The representative of Israel, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to a statement by her counterpart from Syria, by stating that the latter’s Government was inflicting human rights abuses “as we speak”.  It was therefore incredible that she could raise such issues [of the Israeli occupation].  “Saying the magic word ‘ Israel’ will no longer hide the brutal crimes of her regime,” she stressed.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.