Children's Rights: Let's Celebrate, Not Derogate

20 November 2009. On today's 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) urges governments not to cut back on human rights-compliant services for children with disabilities.

Some governments are using the global economic crisis as a justification to decrease their social services and education budgets. As children with disabilities are often among the most vulnerable people in every country, MDAC encourages governments to allocate the maximum available resources to them. The concept of progressively realising economic, social and cultural rights means that governments cannot backslide, but rather that there must be measurable progress year on year.

MDAC calls on governments to refocus their attention on children with disabilities, as many of them have been abandoned by their families or grow up deprived of a family environment. These children are denied an education, and, in some countries, are forced to live in institutions. For them, the rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child remain an empty promise. Residential institutions are far away from the public eye. They are often unregulated by government and unmonitored by independent inspectorates allowing abuses to be carried out with impunity.

Maximum use of available resources

The proposition that children's rights should be protected even in countries with limited finances is supported widely. The European Committee of Social Rights has said that governments need to progressively realise the right to education for children with disabilities by adopting a reasonable timeframe, by making measurable progress, and by providing financing consistent with the maximum use of available resources. In the collective complaint decision in MDAC v. Bulgaria, the Committee said that Bulgaria's financial constraints cannot be used to justify the fact that institutionalised children with intellectual disabilities are not provided with their right to an education.

In his remarks on the 20th anniversary, Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe confirmed that "resource limitations cannot be seen as an excuse for ignoring obligations to protect child rights and for delaying the implementation of measures. The greater the difficulties, the more reason to act with a clear political will in order to address the problems in a systematic fashion. Indeed, it is particularly in times of crisis that the state has to reaffirm its commitment and to fully respect the rights of children - all children."

MDAC echoes the Commissioner's call for action, and joins him in reminding States of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which "also requires concrete steps to be taken to guarantee genuine implementation. It prescribes that governments must take legal, administrative and other measures and use 'the maximum extent of their available resources' to ensure that children can enjoy their rights."

MDAC is aware that governments, local authority officials, and staff of educational and social care services for children often complain about the lack of financial resources to ensure upholding children's rights. However, the reality is that children's cognitive, physical, and emotional development suffer from a lack of education, activities and stimulation. The prevalence of neglect and abuse to which they are at risk in institutions leaves lasting damage and robs children of their childhood altogether. International human rights law demands that governments live up to their commitments and advance the rights of all children through the allocation of sufficient funding to community-based support services and to inclusive education. Investments need to be made also into building the capacity of leaders to shift the attitudes of decision-makers at each level. Without political will, no amount of resources will ensure that children's rights are protected, respected and fulfilled.

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