Bulgaria: Little progress on right to education for children with disabilities

3 November 2009, Sofia, Bulgaria and Budapest, Hungary. It is one year since Europe’s highest social rights body found that Bulgaria had violated international law by discriminating against children with disabilities in not providing them with an education. A report issued today by the Mental Disability Advocacy Center and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee analyses progress one year later. Out of eleven recommendations flowing from the judicial decision, the Bulgarian government has achieved none fully, has achieved four partially, and has failed to achieve seven.

In Bulgaria’s capital today, sixty experts – including the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights – gather to ask one question: why has such little progress been made?

The report will be launched today at a roundtable event in Sofia, Bulgaria, at which participants will discuss the October 2008 decision by the European Committee for Social Rights in MDAC v. Bulgaria, a case in which the Committee found Bulgaria in violation of Article 17 (right to education) and Article E (right to non-discrimination) of the Revised European Social Charter with respect to institutionalised children with disabilities. The European Social Charter is an international human rights treaty which is legally binding upon Bulgaria.

Discussants at today’s roundtable event will evaluate the Bulgarian government’s progress in ensuring inclusive education, in fulfilment of a pledge made by civil society organisations to continue to hold the Bulgarian government to account, and to provide them with technical assistance to ensure full enjoyment of human rights of children with disabilities. The report to be released today notes that despite good intentions made publicly by the Bulgarian governmental representatives, little progress has actually been made. Results yet to be fulfilled include:

• A law which provides for the right to inclusive education which transforms the education system in order to respond to the diversity of all learners;
• A law which ensures that schools and curricula are adaptable and accessible to all children without discrimination;
• A timetabled plan to eliminate segregated school practices;
• Training for teachers to create and foster a culture of inclusive education in schools;
• Ensuring that one ministry – the Ministry of Education, Youth and Science – is responsible for the education of all children;
• Information for children and parents and the community on choices in education.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, will open the roundtable event. In his public “Viewpoint” in September 2009, the Commissioner referenced MDAC v. Bulgaria and noted the widespread segregation of children with intellectual disabilities constitutes a violation of human rights. He criticised European governments for their failure to follow through on de-institutionalisation policies, and called for action to combat disability-based discrimination against children.

Participants at the roundtable will include the Deputy Minister of Education, Youth and Science as well as the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy. Representatives of the State Agency for Child Protection will also be present and provide the government’s perspective and plans to ensure children with disabilities their right to inclusive education. Other speakers include Bulgarian and international experts on education, disability and human rights, such as the Ingrid Körner, President of Inclusion Europe. Mothers of children with intellectual disabilities will speak of the ways in which Bulgarian system continues to prevent their children from developing to their fullest potential.

See the information bulletin, the event's agenda, a summary of the roundtable event, and the progress report on the implementation of MDAC v. Bulgaria. Some of the roundtable presentations are available here:

- Video on Inclusive Education, Lebanese Association for Self-Advocacy
- Ingrid Koerner, Inclusion Europe
- Elsabe Louw, Lora Foundation
- Iva Boneva, Centre for Inclusive Education, Bulgaria (in Bulgarian)
- Anely Chobanova, Commission for the Protection against Discrimination, Bulgaria (in Bulgarian)
MDAC also participated in a visit to a children's social care institution and high school to uncover good practices in implementing inclusive education in Bulgaria. Read the visit report here.For further information, please contact Victoria Lee, MDAC Legal Officer on mdac@mdac.org.

The roundtable event is made possible by a grant from the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe, the Open Society Institute - Budapest, and MDAC-UK.

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