Today marks the first commemoration of World Down Syndrome Day. I congratulate the global partnership of governments, activists, families, professionals and others that worked so tirelessly and passionately to bring this Day into existence.
For too long, persons with Down syndrome, including children, have been left on the margins of society. In many countries, they continue to face stigma and discrimination as well as legal, attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their participation in their communities.
Discrimination can be as invidious as forced sterilization or as subtle as segregation and isolation through both physical and social barriers. Persons with Down syndrome are often denied the right to equal recognition before the law, as well as the right to vote or be elected. Intellectual impairments have also been seen as legitimate grounds for depriving persons with Down syndrome of their liberty, and for holding them in specialized institutions, sometimes for their entire lives.
In many countries, girls and boys with intellectual disabilities lack sufficient access to mainstream education. The prejudice that children with Down syndrome obstruct the education of others has led some parents of children with intellectual disabilities to put their children in special schools or keep them at home. Yet research shows – and more people are coming to understand – that diversity in the classroom leads to learning and understanding that benefit all children.
The United Nations has worked for decades to ensure the well-being and human rights of all people. These efforts were strengthened by the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. The Convention embodies a paradigm shift in which persons with disabilities are no longer regarded as objects of charity and welfare, but as persons with equal rights and dignity who can make an enormous contribution to society in their own right.
On this day, let us reaffirm that persons with Down syndrome are entitled to the full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others. Let us build an inclusive society for all.