MDAC welcomes UNICEF’s report on inclusion of children with disabilities

The Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) welcomes the “State of the World’s Children 2013” report issued today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The focus of this year’s report is children with disabilities. The main message is that inclusion benefits everyone, yet too many children with disabilities continue to face barriers to inclusion.

“In rejecting a charity model where children are rendered passive recipients of care, UNICEF promotes a human rights-based approach which reinforces the bridge between children’s rights and disability rights,” said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director.

Of particular importance for children with intellectual or psycho-social disabilities are three of the report’s recommendations, on education, institutions and justice.  

1. Inclusive education is a right for all children

UNICEF’s report highlights the misconception that inclusive education means having simply having an education. In an inclusive school, the report says, “students are taught in small classes in which they collaborate and support one another rather than compete. Children with disabilities are not segregated in the classroom, at lunchtime or on the playground.” Inclusive education is no longer simply a UNICEF policy guideline, but an enforceable right under Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The report finds that children with disabilities are still significantly less likely to be enrolled in school. Even when they are enrolled, they are often segregated from their peers. Inclusive education is not only beneficial in the long-term for the child and everyone else, but its immediate impact may correct misconceptions that prevent inclusion. The report states starkly that Millennium Developmental Goal 2 (universal primary education) cannot be achieved without governments consciously achieving inclusive education. Yet it is MDAC’s experience that governments on our doorstep fail to act appropriately. In Hungary a government-sponsored bill before Parliament is set to legalise segregation in education for any social group, including Roma children or children who have a disability, a proposal which has been sharply criticised by NGOs.  


2. A moratorium on admissions to institutions

UNICEF sends a clear message to governments that they must end the institutionalisation of children with disabilities, starting with a moratorium on new admissions, a policy for which MDAC has been advocating for several years. Every placement of a child into an institution is a preventable tragedy. Even in times of austerity, governments must provide support for family-based care and community-based rehabilitation. Millions of children grow up to be adults in institutions, segregated from friends, denied their autonomy and exposed to neglect and abuse for life.

MDAC recently undertook monitoring missions to the Czech Republic and visited child psychiatric hospitals where children were restrained by straps or placed in seclusion rooms to ‘calm down’. Many of the facilities in that country and elsewhere are hidden from society, so abuses take place beyond the public gaze, and with impunity since perpetrators are rarely punished. States are obliged to prevent torture and ill-treatment against children with disabilities. This goes hand in hand with a no-admissions policy which forces the local government to find an alternative for each child.


3. Provide access to justice

MDAC welcomes UNICEF’s focus on inclusive justice in today’s report. We know that children with disabilities are three times more likely to be exposed to abuse than those without disabilities. Those children clearly need mechanisms to access justice. Governments should establish tailor-made preventive and protection measures to ensure this. MDAC is aware of violations of fair trial rights of children with disabilities in several countries, for example via abusive police interviews or exposure of victims of violence to perpetrators in the courtroom. Governments should ensure that the voice of all children, in particular children with no verbal communication, are heard and taken seriously in all decisions affecting them. 

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