15 May 2008 - CRINMAIL 983
Special edition on the rights of children with disabilities
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The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) took effect on 3 May 2008, a month after Ecuador became the 20th ratifying nation. The Convention, which has so far been ratified by 25 countries, expressly recognises the equality of persons with disabilities for the first time in international law.
Today’s CRINMAIL celebrates the Convention’s birth and provides tools for pressing more governments to ratify and implement the treaty.
The CRPD, which was adopted in 2006 after four years of negotiations, is the first human rights Convention of the 21st century, and addresses civil, political, social economic and cultural rights.
Can you believe this? Facts and figures on children with disabilities
- Up to 150 million children globally have a disability and the numbers are rising
- Children with disabilities are disproportionately likely to live in poverty
- 50% of children who are deaf and 60% of those with an intellectual impairment are sexually abused
- Parents and medical professionals who murder children with disabilities often have reduced sentences and use mercy killing defences – the lives of children with disabilities are not treated as of equal value with others
- In some countries 90% of children with disabilities will not survive beyond the age of 20
- 98% of children with disabilities across the developing world have no access to education
- Discrimination in relation to life saving treatments, to health care, to child care services and education is endemic
- Access to justice is routinely denied because they are not considered credible witnesses
[Source: Draft version of 'Promoting the Rights of Children with Disabilities: A guide to using the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with the Convention on the Rights of the Child,' produced on behalf of the Save the Children Alliance by Sweden and the UK]
What does the Convention mean for children with disabilities?
The new Convention marks a shift from seeing children with disabilities as objects of charity, and addressing their 'special needs' - the approach set out in Article 23 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - to subjects of rights.
All the Articles in the text apply to children with disabilities; in addition, Article 7 sets out specific obligations to ensure children with disabilities enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children. This includes: to ensure that the best interests of the child is a primary consideration and to provide disability and age appropriate assistance to ensure that children with disabilities are able to realise the right to their express views on all matters of concern to them and have them taken seriously in accordance with age and maturity. Read more in Gerison Lansdown's paper: The New Disability Convention and the Protection of Children.
What if my government violates the Convention?
The Convention has an Optional Protocol which provides for a complaints mechanism and is ratified separately to the Convention. This mechanism will mean individuals or groups whose government has violated their rights as set out in the Convention can get redress, provided they have exhausted national remedies. The Optional Protocol has so far been ratified by 15 States.
Complaints submitted under the Optional Protocol will be examined by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee has not been set up yet, but updates will be available on the CRIN website.
Of the States which have ratified the Convention so far, Belgium, Egypt, El Salvador, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands and Poland have all made declarations of reservations, see these here.
The UK government has said that it will ratify the Convention and its Optional Protocol, but with a raft of reservations, including on residential care, employment in the armed forces, segregating education, and the right for people with disabilities to have liberty of movement, nationality and immigration. See: UN Convention Campaign Coalition calls for government ratification without reservation.
[Sources: BBC, Save the Children, Gerison Lansdown]
What can you do?
Check if your government has ratified the Convention here
If it has not already done so, you can lobby your government to ratify the Convention. This toolkit, developed by Disabled People's International, offers ideas about how to do this.
Implementing the Convention
The next step is to get governments to implement the Convention.
A number of toolkits and tips can be used to help get the Convention implemented:
Tips and strategies for implementation from international child rights advocate Gerison Lansdown
Implementation Toolkit for the UN Convention (Disabled People's International)
If governments fail to implement the Convention, they can be held to account through a complaints procedure. This is provided for in the Optional Protocol to the Convention. The procedure can be used to report violations of the rights contained in the Convention to the UN. More information about this will be available on CRIN as it develops.
The new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will only be effective for children with disabilities if they, their caregivers, local communities and civil society organisations and advocates know that it exists and how to use it. Save the Children UK and Sweden, on behalf of the Alliance, have responded to the need for information by developing a handbook to help children with disabilities and their advocates use the new Convention to claim their rights and begin to build inclusive societies which are equally respectful of all children.
Save the Children is inviting comments on this draft version of the handbook to be submitted over the next two weeks.
Outline of the Handbook
The Handbook is intended for use by child and disability rights advocates, and civil society organisations. It will also be of use to government in interpreting and implementing the rights of children with disabilities. It does assume some knowledge or understanding of advocacy and is not written for children themselves. It will provide the user with:
A glossary – explaining some of the commonly used words in human rights law and practice
Chapter one - An introduction to human rights – where do they come from and what do they mean and how do they get established
Chapter two – Historical overview of the rights of people, including children, with disabilities – a brief review of the developments at the international level that have led to an understanding of disability as a human rights issue, the contribution of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to increased recognition of the rights of children with disabilities and its limitations in providing sufficient protection.
Chapter three - Development of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – an overview of the history of the Convention, how it came about, the role played by the disability community, and children with disabilities, and the inclusion of issues concerning children with disabilities
Chapter four – Key provisions – a brief description of all the articles in the Convention and their meaning
Chapter five – Responsibility for implementation of the rights of children with disabilities – a detailed analysis of the key responsibilities of governments and the action they are expected to take to give effect to the commitments they undertake when ratifying the CRPD and the CRC, as well as the responsibilities of other actors in the lives of children with disabilities
Chapter six – Advocacy to promote implementation – suggested strategies for action to ensure effective advocacy to promote the realisation of the rights of children with disabilities
Chapter seven – Analysis of the CRC and the CRPD –an analysis of how to use the two Conventions together in order to understand the key rights of children with disabilities, and advocate effectively for their realisation
The text is authored by Gerison Lansdown.
Read the handbook here.
Please send comments to Tina Hyder, Diversity Adviser, Save the Children UK at: firstname.lastname@example.org by 2 June 2008.
A child-friendly version of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 'It’s About Ability: An explanation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities', was launched this week by UNICEF and the Victor Pineda Foundation.
This version aims to educate, empower and motivate all children, but particularly those with disabilities, to claim their rights and to actively participate in challenging discrimination as well as promoting the Convention.
The child-friendly booklet is part of a collaborative effort involving UN partners, Save the Children and disabled people’s organisations. The Special Olympics and Save the Children (UK and Sweden) provided space to consult with children at organised events.
“It’s about ability. That’s what it’s about,” said disability rights activist Victor Pineda. “Hopefully I can inspire other kids with this book to understand all the things that they can do and to help them understand the promises that have been given to them.”
“The inclusion of children with disabilities is not a charitable act but a matter of rights,” said UNICEF Director of Programmes Nicholas Alipui. “Empowering and enabling children makes them less vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation.”
'It's About Ability' will be distributed together with a set of educational materials, currently under development, which are to be used by youth leaders, peer educators, teachers and community workers.
Together with its partners, UNICEF will also support data collection and research, and will provide technical assistance in the review of national legislation to ensure they are in compliance with the CRPD's principles.
- UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Child friendly version of the Convention in Arabic
- A to Z of child rights (child friendly)
- Disability news page
The First Human Rights Convention of the 21st Century (Violeta Krasnic)
These videos, available on the Hub - Witness, focus on efforts to end segregation and discrimination of persons with disabilities. In Living Proof, the right to live in the community is asserted. Mental Disability Rights International’s video from Paraguay played a pivotal role in reforming the country’s mental health services. In Yemen, children with disabilities write the first child friendly version of the Convention.
Association for Promoting Inclusion (API) Living Proof – the right to live in the community
Human Rights and Education - Save the Children – Yemen
Disability Rights Advocate Hails the New UN Convention
Paraguay's Mental Health System - Mental Disability Rights International
International instruments which can be used to challenge breaches of the rights of children with disabilities:
Article 13 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Article 15 of the European Social Charter
European Court of Human Rights judgement: Disability/ Sexual Abuse: X and Y v the Netherlands
European Social Committee decisions: Discrimination: International Association Autism-Europe (IAAE) v. France (July 2002)
See also: CRIN's guide to strategic litigation
UK: UN Convention campaign coalition calls for government ratification without reservation (9 May 2008)
Mexico: Legal opinion on article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (in Spanish)
Kosovo: Advocacy groups shape Constitution to protect disability rights (7 May 2008)
Do you have examples of campaigns or laws to promote the rights of children with disabilities in your country? If so, let us know at email@example.com.
Not sure how to do this? See our media toolkit.
Gerison Lansdown, 59, is an international child rights advocate based in the UK. She is currently working on a handbook to bring the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child together as an advocacy tool – the handbook will be published later this year. She has just finished preparing the General Comment on Article 12 which will be adopted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child during its next session. She is working on a partner toolkit for governments and policy makers on how to implement the General Comment.
Gerison is also the co-Director of CRED PRO which develops core education programmes for professionals working with children.
I suppose my work in child rights started many eons ago when I was working as a social worker with children in Yorkshire and Liverpool. I always felt a sense of frustration that things were never going to change by working with individuals. You need to change the systems that create injustices.
If you are going to create change, there are two strategies: first, to change laws and policies, working from the top down; the second is to look at what strengths people – teachers, policy makers, etc - already have and engage with them in terms of what they want and what their aspirations are. We need to invest more energy in working with people, not against them, to get commitment to change. Human rights tends to tackle things from a top down approach and development from a bottom up approach; we need to marry up the two to create a rights based approach to development.
The most solid changes I have achieved are in helping to strengthen the Convention and the reporting process. In 1997 I got the Committee to hold a Day of General Discussion on the rights of children with disabilities which led to a General Comment. I have been working in this area for 12 years. It is difficult in child rights to actually see the concrete changes you have contributed to; if you work as a teacher, for example, you see children learn and develop and begin to discover things, but child rights work is long term, so it is nice to be able to see some solid changes.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the humanity and equality of persons with disabilities in a way that has not been done before. The very process was transforming. It was achieved in large part as a consequence of the advocacy of persons with disabilities themselves. You could watch the language change there at the UN and it began to be ordinary for people with disabilities to be involved and to lead with their expertise.
We will need to wait and see how the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [which has yet to be elected] will work together to address these issues. Governments may start ratifying to be in the bidding to get someone onto the Committee.
Violence against children with disabilities is an issue that never gets raised in the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but it needs specific strategies for prevention. In some cases it may be more appropriate to include issues concerning children with disabilities in government reporting to the CRC so strategies are integrated with overall strategies for children.
Peter Newell is the child rights advocate I most admire. He is unrelenting, innovative and focused. He is utterly dedicated to achieving change.
I would sum up child rights with the word dignity.
Take the special edition here.
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