Rights of Children with Disabilities - CRC General Discussion October 6 1997

Summary: At its 16th session (22 September -
10 October 1997) the Committee on
the Rights of the Child devoted a Day
of General Discussion (6 October
1997) to the theme "The Rights of
Children with Disabilities". This is the
submission made by the UK
Children's Rights Office to the

Rights of Children with Disabilities - CRC General Discussion October 6 1997 The General Discussion day held by the Committee on the Rights of the Child focused on the rights of children with disabilities. In particular, the theee themes of the day were the right to life, the right to inclusion and the right to participation. The day was very well attended by a wide range of organisations and prompted a stimulating and challenging debate. Speakers included Bengt Lindquist, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social Development on Disability, and speakers from Disabled People International, UNESCO, International Save the Children Alliance. In addition two young people from South Africa made a presentation on the rights to inclusion and participation. The primary message of the day was the urgent need to address the widespread and extreme abuses of fundamental human rights of a significant minority of the world's population. The task ahead was to challenge continued abuse, oppression and discrimination of disabled children. It was stressed that it was important to acknowledge the scale of the problem experienced by disabled children. The statistics relating to access to education, institutionalisation and social exclusion are shocking - 97% of disabled children in the developing world receive no rehabilita-tion and 98% no education - but they must not shock us into impotence or inaction. Many impairments suffered by children and their disabling impact are caused by the environments adults have created -disability caused by poverty, war, child labour, violence and abuse, environmental pollution, and lack of access to appropriate health care. As such it is not inevitable, and it can and must be tackled. Stress was also given to the need to address the humanity behind the statistics. Disability can too often condemn children to social isolation, loneliness, lack of friend-ships, denial of a voice and denial of opportunities to participate within society. It was recognised that within most societies, prevailing attitudes perceive the life of a disabled child as being of less worth, less importance and less potential than other lives. All over the world, disability is stigmatised. Unless and until we begin to challenge these negative attitudes towards disability, little will change in the lives of disabled children. All children have the right to life. And this requires active measures to ensure that the survival and development of disabled children is pursued with a commitment equal to that adopted for able-bodied children. A number of speakers raised concern over the unspoken assumption embodied in much medical and scientific research, that its goal is and should be the pursuit of the 'perfect' human being. Whilst it is entirely appropriate to work to eliminate the inci-dence of impairments, it is not acceptable to elimi-nate the child with that impairment through eugenicist policies or discriminatory abortion laws. Emphasis was given to the need to be clear about the concept of prevention. We must work towards the ceeation of a safer world for children, to minimise disability and harm but not seek solutions through the denial of life itself as a strategy for prevention. A recurring theme arising from the presentations related to the need to adopt a holistic approach to the issue of disability. All the rights in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must be considered in respect of all disabled children, and disabled children should be considered when examining implementation of all the rights in the Convention. The Convention can be used as a framework of principles backed up by reference to the Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for People with Disabilities as a source of detailed guidance on implementation. In pursuing this holistic apprdach, there is a need for action at all levels - international, national, governmental, local and community based action. At the international level, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has a clear role in sustaining rigorous scrutiny of states party reports and in high-lighting the situation of disabled children and in pro-moting adherence to the Standard Rules. There is also a vital role for exchange of good practice and of research evidence between countries in order that everyone can benefit from the widest possible knowledge and experience. Demands were made for political action at the governmental level to introduce legal reform to prohibit all forms of discrimination, to develop public education campaigns and practical programmes at community level, to promote inclusion, to de-institutionalise children and to promote positive images of disabled children in the media. But action also needs to take place at the level of the family, the school, the village.if the day-to-day lives of disabled children are to be improved. Article 12 of the Convention insists on the right of all children capable of expressing a view to express those views freely on all matters of concern to them. Disabled children suffer a double denial of their right to participate actively in decisions affecting their lives. Children generally are too often excluded from participation but for disabled children there is often much greater reluctance on the part of carers to enable them to be involved. Often this reluctance stems from adults anxious to protect a disabled child, failing to recognise that over-protection itself can have a disabling impact. It also derives from an all too common unwillingness to acknowledge and value the capacities and potential of disabled children. Failure to respect the right of disabled children to be heard represents a flindamental denial of their status as people. It disempowers them, it renders them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by adults, it means that their experience and knowledge fails to inform decisions that affect them, and it denies them the opportunities for personal development and growth associated with the process of participating. Parents are key players in promoting opportunities for their children's empowerment. They need support, help and encouragement in strengthening their capacity to flilfil that role. Disabled children in most societies are excluded from mainstream activities. Too many are forced to live in institutions, sent to segregated schools, and excluded from play, cultural and leisure activities enjoyed by other children. This segregation is often defended on the grounds of cost-effectiveness. Inclusion is argued to be too expensive. However, the point was made by several speakers that, in fact, the reverse argument can be successfiilly sustained. In fact, countries cannot afford the costs of exclusion -by failing to include disabled children, they are losing out on the huge potential contribution that they have to offer. Educational opportunities enable children to become productive members of families and communities. At stake too is the loss of the potential for enrichment of our social, cultural and intellectual experience through the celebration of diversity. Much of the failure to promote inclusion reflects less a lack of resources and rather a lack of political will. The point was made that it is often those governments claiming least ability to promote the rights of disabled children that are spending most on armaments and other military expenditure. Inclusion is a right and not a privilege. And inclusive education, far from being an expensive luxury, is a strategy for improving opportunities for all. There was a consensus from all participants in the discussion that the time for talking was over and it was now time to act. The extent of injustice, discrimination and abuse experienced by disabled children was so profound that urgent action was needed. The Committee put forward a number of recommendations arising from the day and has agreed to estab- lish a working group to progress those recommendations. The group will consist of members of the Committee but will also include representative NGOs. The Committee will meet in January 1998 to determine the mandate, membership and activities of the group.

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