dcsimg


Header image for news printout

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers initial report of Panama

Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

16 August 2017

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Panama on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Cesar Augusto Gomez Ruiloba, Deputy Permanent Representative of Panama to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his opening remarks, greeted the Committee Experts and introduced the delegation of Panama.

Presenting the report of Panama, Maria Castro de Tejeira, Vice-Minister of Education of Panama, said that disability-based discrimination was expressly prohibited by the 2004 reform of the constitution, while in 2007, Panama had created the National Disability Secretariat as an autonomous body, with its own budget and the mandate to promote public policies for the social inclusion of persons with disabilities.  Panama continued to build an inclusive social model based on human rights, and several programmes were in place for the benefit of persons with disabilities such as Roofs of Hope and Guardian Angels; cash transfer programmes were in place as well as programmes which increased the opportunity for the integration of persons with disabilities in the labour market.  The State was conscious that guaranteeing equal access to education was the first step in guaranteeing the right to work and it was thus promoting free inclusive education and actively removing barriers to the realization of this constitutional right.  Much had been achieved in the 10 years of the implementation of the Convention in Panama, but many challenges remained, concluded Ms. Castro de Tejeira and reiterated the commitment to human rights for a more inclusive and equal society.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts recognized the progress made in promulgating the legislation for the implementation of the Convention and recalled that Panama was the second country which had ratified this instrument.  They asked about the measures in place to protect women and girls with disabilities and children with disabilities from violence, abuse and discrimination, and were particularly interested in hearing how Panama guaranteed the rights of children with disabilities to live in a family environment.  The disability certification process was slow and costly, Experts noted and asked how it would be aligned with the requirements of the Convention.  Of particular concern was the heavy focus on the prevention of disability, and the prevailing medical model of disability.  The Convention was not about the prevention of disability but about the rights of persons with disabilities, Experts stressed and asked about the plans to anchor the human rights model of disability into policy and practice.  The delegation was asked about steps taken to mitigate the negative impact of the ongoing decentralization process on the equal access to services, plans to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment of children with disabilities, and the removal of the institution of guardianship for persons with intellectual disabilities from the family code. 

Magali Diaz, Deputy Director of the National Disability Secretariat of Panama, in her concluding remarks, reassured the Committee of the Secretariat’s commitment to continue to work with the Committee and with civil society to ensure the respect for the Convention and to guarantee the rights of the more than 400,000 persons with disabilities in the country.

In his concluding statement, Carlos Alberto Parra Dussan, Committee Rapporteur for Panama, appreciated the open recognition by Panama of the challenges and gaps in the implementation of the Convention, and expressed hope that law 25 of 2017 would provide a high level of protection for persons with disabilities in the country.

Theresia Degener, Committee Chairperson, in closing remarks, hoped that the Committee’s concluding observations would provide further guidance for the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities in Panama.

The delegation of Panama included representatives of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, National Disability Secretariat (SENADIS), Ministry of Labour and Labour Development, Chamber of Administrative Disputes, Public Social Organization Ann Sullivan of Panama, and the Permanent Mission of Panama to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 16 August, to begin its consideration of the initial report of Morocco (CRPD/C/MAR/1).

Report

The initial report of Panama can be read here: CRPD/C/PAN/1.

Presentation of the Report

CESAR AUGUSTO GOMEZ RUILOBA, Deputy Permanent Representative of Panama to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his opening remarks, greeted the Committee Experts and introduced the delegation of Panama.

MARIA CASTRO DE TEJEIRA, Vice-Minister of Education of Panama, said that Panama entered this dialogue with a constructive spirit and a recognition that there were challenges which must still be overcome.  The 2004 Constitutional reform had harmonized domestic legislation with international law, and the principle of the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability had been expressly enshrined.  In 2007, the National Disability Secretariat had been created as an autonomous body, with its own budget, with the mandate to promote public policies for the social inclusion of persons with disabilities.  This was a forum for the participation of all actors and was responsible for the mainstreaming of the social inclusion of persons with disabilities and their families.  Panama continued to build an inclusive social model based on human rights, and several programmes were in place for the benefit of persons with disabilities such as Roofs of Hope and Guardian Angels that provided housing to persons with disabilities, including those with most severe disabilities.  Cash transfer programmes were in place as well as programmes which increased the capacities of persons with disabilities and the opportunity to integrate them in the labour market.

Over 60 years ago, Panama had started to focus on the education of persons with disabilities and it was conscious that guaranteeing equal access to education was the first step in guaranteeing the right to work.  It had thus been essential to adopt the State education policy with short, medium and long-term goals, in partnership with many stakeholders from academia, civil society organizations and employers.  Panama was promoting inclusive education on an equal footing and was actively removing barriers to free and inclusive education which was a constitutional right.  The Marrakesh Treaty had been adopted by virtue of the Law 9 of 2016 and Panama was establishing an inter-ministerial commission for the implementation of this law.  The judiciary had adopted a policy on access to justice which included the needs of persons with disabilities and efforts were being undertaken to increase accessibility to the proceedings for persons with disabilities.  The national platform for comprehensive disaster risk management paid special attention to persons with disabilities, and the quota of two per cent of persons with disabilities among employees had been adopted.  Policies to promote workplace inclusion of persons with disabilities had been adopted and in 2014 a tri-partite commission had been created which had studied the conditions in the labour market to upgrade the vocational and technical training for persons with disabilities from which 990 persons had benefited to date. 

The first disability survey in 2006 had found that 11.3 per cent of the population had a disability, noted Ms. Castro de Tejeira and said that the upcoming second survey would use the World Health Organization’s Model Disability Survey.  The State had made available technological tools, including through workshops, which allowed persons with disabilities to work independently in different sectors such as educational, labour or social ones.  In addition, 28 inclusive “infoplazas” had been installed to bridge the digital, economic and social gaps and to facilitate access to information and communication, and a smartphone system called Civic inspector was in place through which a misuse of designated parking places could be reported.  To date, almost 17,000 fines had been issued and the proceedings would be donated to representative organizations of persons with disabilities in line with the law 15 of 2016.  The National Standing Commission had been set up in 2012 to monitor the compliance with national and international human rights obligations; the Commission was responsible for preparing national human rights reports and for the follow up on recommendations received.  The National Disability Secretariat was a part of the Commission.  In closing, the Vice-Minister said that much had been achieved in the 10 years of the implementation of the Convention; she acknowledged the many challenges that remained, and reiterated the commitment of Panama to human rights for a more inclusive and equal society.

Questions from the Committee Experts
 
CARLOS ALBERTO PARRA DUSSAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Panama, recognized the progress made in promulgating the legislation for the implementation of the Convention and recalled that Panama was the second country which had ratified this instrument.  Panama continued to harmonize its legislation with the provisions of the Convention and had also ratified in 2016 the Marrakesh Treaty, which provided access to printed materials for persons with disabilities. 

The Rapporteur noted that Panama had participated in the high-level dialogue on the Sustainable Development Goals in New York and said that the issue of the implementation of the Goals would be discussed during the dialogue.  Furthermore, inclusive education remained a challenge, as was the implementation of the two per cent quota for the employment of persons with disabilities and their greater inclusion in the workplace.

A Committee Expert inquired about the methodology used to prepare the report and stressed that representative organizations of persons with disabilities should be included in all stages of the process.

What measures were in place to protect children with disabilities from violence and punishment, and to support their families in caring for their children?

What was being done to improve the disability certification process, which was currently very slow and costly, and bring it in line with the Convention?

The delegation was asked to explain to the Committee how the needs of women and girls with disabilities were included in the national policies for women, and also about specific measures taken to protect them from violence and discrimination.

The Committee was informed that there was a number of children with disabilities living in State homes scattered around the country.  How many children with disabilities lived in State care and what was being done to ensure that those children were moved to family care?

Another Expert inquired about the resources allocated for the implementation of the national disability strategy, number of complaints for disability-based discrimination and their outcomes, and why women and children with disabilities represented a very small percentage of those who received counselling. 

On accessibility, were there any sanctions for failure to implement accessibility standards?  Could a person in a wheelchair visit Panama and how would he or she move about? 

Experts took up the National Disability Secretariat and asked how its members were selected, the resources – human and financial – provided to the Secretariat to enable it to fulfil its mandate of implementing the national disability strategy, and about the role of this body in the disaster risk preparedness and management.  What measures were in place to enable the Secretariat to deal with the situation of risk?

An Expert took note of a number of pilot projects for the benefit of persons with disabilities and asked how Panama would scale them up to the national level.

What measures were in place to support indigenous persons with disabilities, and in particular indigenous women with disabilities?

The delegation was asked about the existence of community-based support and programmes and how much resources were allocated for that purpose, awareness raising activities on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the recognition of sign language as a national language.

The disability strategy seemed to be focused on prevention and rehabilitation, noted an Expert, who stressed that the emphasis on prevention was not fully in line with the spirit of the Convention.  What was being done to build and maintain a positive image of disability in awareness raising campaigns?  What was being done to adopt a law which guaranteed accessibility and how internationally recognized accessibility standards were considered in the policies, particularly in relation to information and communication technology?

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, raised concern about the heavy focus on the prevention of disability in Panama and stressed that the Convention was not about the prevention of disability but about the rights of persons with disabilities.  How could those stigmatizing policies on disability be explained and justified?  Another concern was that the medical model of disability still prevailed, for example the Teletron fundraising campaign was heavily based on charity and pity for persons with disabilities.

CARLOS ALBERTO PARRA DUSSAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Panama, asked about law 15 which harmonized the law with the Convention, and how the fundraising for persons with disabilities was defined by the national disability strategy.

Response by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised about the functions and the mandate of the National Disability Secretariat, the delegation explained that implementing the national disability strategy was not its only responsibility.  The Secretariat was tasked with mainstreaming the social inclusion of persons with disabilities in all public policies.  The topic of disability was handled at the State level and by more actors than the National Disability Secretariat alone, but was rather mainstreamed in State policies and institutions.

On the actions taken to enforce the rights of persons with disabilities, the delegation explained that access to the physical environment was guaranteed by law to persons with disabilities and their families.  Law 15 of 2016 had introduced additional measures to implement the rights, particularly in the domain of architecture, and a universal committee for access had been established in which representatives of persons with disabilities were members.  To ensure accessibility, there was supervision of construction companies and construction projects, the issue of accessibility was included in university courses, 14 public transport stops had been made accessible, and accessibility control of major infrastructure sites, such as airports, had been carried out.  A 311 hotline was in place to which all complaints about lack of accessibility could be reported.

In terms of public investment and allocations for persons with disabilities, the delegation said that it was not possible to say with precision how much was allocated for persons with disabilities, but that the resources could be monitored through the development of social spending, for example for health, inclusive education, fighting poverty and jobs creation.

Explaining the inclusion of persons with disabilities in disaster risk management, a delegate said that a warning system was in place to alert persons with disabilities in cases of disaster or fire, and added that specific signs were used to mark evacuation routes.  In 2016, sign language interpreters had been incorporated in the national system of civil protection.  Two projects were being implemented in schools to increase the capacity of children with disabilities to communicate in situations of disasters, and capacity building in first aid was being carried out in eight regions, including in indigenous ones.  Disaster management plans in cases of forest fires and floods, which included the specific needs of persons with disabilities, were in place.

With regard to the disability certification process, the delegation said steps had been taken to reduce its duration, such as streamlining procedures and modifying some of the instruments, the duration of the process had been reduced, and the geographical availability of the procedures had been increased to rural areas as well.  Resources had been invested to increase the number of evaluators who could dedicate due attention to all those who requested a certification of disability, which was done on a voluntary basis.

Panama was in the middle of the process of circumscribing the law with the participation of civil society, in order to ensure its harmonization with the provisions of the Convention.  The certification process was different from the medical system and it took into account aspects of activity and participation, and the evaluation was a holistic one. 

The vulnerability of women was doubled when they had a disability.  The first disability survey had shown that the vulnerability of women also increased in indigenous areas.  A roadmap had been adopted to expand the projects for persons with disabilities into areas where none were present, and this in particular included indigenous areas.

The National Disability Secretariat had developed a universal accessibility manual which referred not only to physical accessibility, but accessibility in general.  This included the area of transport, where Panama had a long way to go in ensuring that persons with disabilities had accessibility.  It was very difficult for persons with disabilities to move around in Panama, due to the lack of accessible transport and a number of physical barriers.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, a Committee Expert inquired about supported decision making in Panama and the measures taken to ensure that persons with disabilities could be witnesses in court, and could make important decisions on their own.

The Expert stressed the importance of persons with disabilities to be able to get out of their homes, go about their business, and be seen by others to be participating in the community.  Were there any measures available to support persons with disabilities in getting out and about?

Another Expert asked how the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was being implemented in Panama, and in particular its vision of persons with disabilities as contributors to the disaster risk reduction and management.  How was Panama promoting access to justice for persons with disabilities, including by supporting them to become professionals in the legal or judicial fields?  What was the policy on forced sterilization and forced abortion because of disability?

The legislation of Panama guaranteed the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy full legal capacity on an equal footing with others, and at the same time some provisions of the family code envisaged guardianship for persons with intellectual disabilities.  What steps were being taken to do away with the guardianship regime and ensure that supported decision-making was available to persons with intellectual disability? 

What measures were being taken to protect persons with disabilities against abuse in and outside of their homes, and to promote their right to independent living within the community?  The Committee would soon adopt its General Comment on article 19 of the Convention on the right to independent living and Experts expressed hope that it would be useful for Panama and other States in guaranteeing this right to persons with disabilities.  What support was available to persons with disabilities who needed around-the-clock care to enable them to live independently?
 
How many sign language specialists served in the justice system at the national level and how were their qualifications determined – were representative organizations of persons with disabilities involved in the process?

How many cases had been filed with courts for torture, violations, or abuse against persons with disabilities?

On the decentralization of disability policy, an Expert expressed concern that it might have more negative impacts on the rights of persons with disabilities, in particular by increasing disparity in the availability of services from one municipality to another, and asked about measures in place to mitigate this?

The delegation was asked to provide data on persons with disabilities living in institutions, disaggregated by sex, age and type of disability.  Organizations of persons with disabilities had reported that independent living in Panama was not yet a possibility, noted the Experts and asked about the deinstitutionalization policy in place.

With regard to access to justice, what were the arrangements for legal assistance to persons with disabilities whose rights had been violated? 

Panama had established so-called “safe places” which risked turning into institutions as they offered long-term protection – what measures were in place to ensure that this did not happen and that the “safe places” did not interfere with the right to independent living?

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, asked what had been done to train judges and legal professionals on the human rights model of disability as a measure to increase access to justice for persons with disabilities.  What steps were being taken to get rid of the medical model of disability and introduce the human rights model in the disability policy?  How would Panama implement the rights of women with disabilities, particularly those contained in articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Convention?  Forced sterilization of persons with disabilities and forced abortion were prohibited by law, but what was the situation in practice?

CARLOS ALBERTO PARRA DUSSAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Panama, raised the issue of legal capacity, which was contained in law 15 of 2016, and asked the delegation to inform on how that right was implemented in practice, particularly in light of the family code which contained an institution of guardianship for persons with intellectual disabilities.  Involuntary interment of persons with disabilities was prohibited by the law, and yet it appeared that it continued in certain cases – could the delegation comment?  Were there any considerations as to the remuneration of carers of persons with disabilities?  What data was available on disability-based discrimination and what legal actions had been taken?

Response by the Delegation

Explaining the implementation of general principles, the delegation said that law 15 of 2016 complied with the Convention in this sense, and had introduced modifications to the existing laws which were an obstacle to the full implementation of the provisions of the Convention.  One such example was the medical model of disability.  The law also introduced the principle of mainstreaming of disability rights, particularly with regard to accessibility, and it harmonized the framework law on disability to ensure better enjoyment and respect of rights of persons with disabilities.  Substantial change in terminology had been introduced as well, and it defined disability as a limitation of a person due to personal or environmental circumstances, in line with the Convention.

Panama was aware that some of the fundraising activities were not consistent with the Convention and with the dignity of persons with disabilities, and it called upon the Committee and representative organizations of persons with disabilities to assist it in undertaking the necessary changes.

Panama had successfully adopted the Sustainable Development Goals by virtue of an executive decree 393 of 15 September 2015 and had created a commission for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  The first measure adopted was to align the strategic objectives of the plan of the Government with the Sustainable Development Goals, including its social and economic strategy.  The Government’s strategic plan rested on six pillars, all of them closely related to the Sustainable Development Goals: wellbeing and human development, good life for all, strengthening democracy and rule of law, sustainable economic development, citizen security, foreign policy at the service of development, and respect and protection of the environment.

Concerning discrimination against women with disabilities, the delegation said that the Family Impresa project had empowered women with a broad capacity building programme on a number of themes, including gender-based violence, self-esteem and identification and elaboration of projects.  Women with disabilities had as a result gained economic freedom to improve the quality of life for themselves and their children.

Panama was aware that violence against women and girls was a great human rights violation whose ramifications were felt throughout the lifecycle of the survivors.  The State had adopted measures for the prevention of violence and the protection of women and girls, and in 2017 had criminalized femicide and acts of violence against women in an effort to ensure a life free of violence to all women in the country.  The National Committee for violence against women was in place and it coordinated actions at the national level to prevent violence against women.  A protocol for the care of victims of violence against women had been developed and adopted.  Panama had further designated 17 national-level prosecutors for violence against women and had established in 2017 a specialized police unit for violence against women to provide specialized care to women and an effective protection of victims.  Additionally, four shelters for victims of violence against women and their children had been set up.

A protocol on family fostering and a deinstitutionalization guide had been developed and in December 2016 the right to live in a family had been restored for 87 children, 28 of whom were children with disabilities.  An inter-institutional guide for the care of children victims of violence and sexual exploitation was in place, which incorporated the disability pillar and outlined the specialized care that children with disabilities should receive.

In response to questions voiced about measures taken to raise awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities and promote a positive image of disability, the delegation said that since 2007, Panama had organized different campaigns and awareness days aimed at the general population and civil servants.  Those had been organized with the participation of persons with disabilities, and some examples included the campaign “Rights and Opportunities for All”, and in the creation of the mascot of the National Disability Secretariat (SENADIS) called SENADIN, as a tool to promote, in a fun way, the awareness and knowledge of children of persons with disabilities.

The delegation also explained the report preparation process which included active participation of and contributions by non-governmental organizations representing persons with disabilities and their families.

Panama City was taking active measures to ensure the accessibility of new buildings and to promote adaptations to increase the accessibility of existing buildings, and some of these measures had been expanded to the provinces.  Steps were being taken to increase accessibility of the international airport, while coordination with the representatives of State institutions was in place to raise their awareness to take measures to ensure accessibility of all public buildings.  

The department for free legal assistance had been set up in order to assist victims of crimes, and it had a team of 61 public defenders to assist victims in all judicial proceedings.  Women with disabilities had equal rights to access free legal aid.  In 2016, 31 women and six women with disabilities had been assisted in their legal cases. 

In terms of access to justice for persons with disabilities, the delegation said that the judiciary had 26 staff trained in sign language who provided assistance to deaf persons and persons hard of hearing.  Judges had the right to substitute the deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities with alternative measures.  In the 2016 Amparo case, the Supreme Court had set out the obligation of the authorities to recognize disability and not to compromise the physical or other integrity of persons with disability.  In another constitutional case, disability had been found to represent grounds for special protection.

Panama had carried out a study on the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, which was currently being validated.  The judiciary had started awareness raising among judges on the implementation of the new provisions concerning legal capacity.  A commission of family court judges had been set up, tasked with the reform of the family code and the removal of the guardianship institution.  Other activities were being implemented to guarantee access to justice for persons with disabilities, such as the adaptation of infrastructure, or the availability of mediation services, including in homes of persons with disabilities.

Measures were being taken to integrate mental health services into primary health care provisions, said the delegation.  Persons with mental health disabilities who compromised their physical integrity or the physical integrity of others were hospitalized, until they were deemed fit to return to the community. 

Sterilization of persons with disabilities could only be undertaken with the full, free and informed consent of the person in question.  The same went for abortions, and if an abortion was carried out without a consent, it was sanctioned with one to three years in prison.  The penal code allowed voluntary abortion only if it was a result of a rape, or if there were medical concerns in line with procedures.

On the right to live independently and be included in the community, the delegation explained that Panama was undergoing municipal decentralization which aimed to bring decision-making closer to communities.  The National Disability Secretariat was part of the process.  The decentralization process and the provision of financial resources to municipalities was based on the principles of solidarity, which was one way to prevent the inequality of the terms of access to services in different services.  Various programmes were in place to support persons with disabilities, including home assistance programmes which covered more than 4,000 persons. 

The 1998 law recognized the right of deaf persons to communicate in their natural language, which was sign language, and Panama encouraged the learning and development of this language.  There were 25 registered sign language interpreters in the judiciary.  In order to strengthen the professional skills of sign translators, a qualification had been introduced in 2016 and measures were being taken to regulate the profession of sign interpreters in line with international standards.  A committee would be set up soon to provide support to sign language interpreters.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts inquired about how Panama guaranteed freedom of expression and opinion for persons with disabilities, namely how they received information in a timely manner, on a par with others in the community.  What was the legal status of the provision of broadcasting services equipped with either sign language, audio-description or closed captioning? 

What was being done to make information accessible to persons with intellectual disabilities, for example in easy to read format, and to persons with disabilities whose first language was not Spanish, for example indigenous peoples? 

Experts raised the issue of inclusive education in Panama and asked about the role of special schools in the inclusive education system, about education of deaf children in inclusive education, and the use of sign language in schools and in universities.  How were universities physically accessible?  What was the availability of early interventions for children with disabilities to enable them to grow in an inclusive environment?

To what extent were persons with disabilities participating in public and political life, including in the Parliament and the judicial and administrative branches? 

How could people with limited legal capacity exercise their voting rights, and were voting and polling stations accessible?

What was being done to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in an open labour market on an equal footing with others?  What were the income levels of persons with disabilities and did they enjoy a decent standard of living?  How was the Government contributing to the social protection of persons with disabilities?

The delegation was asked about the right to marry for persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities and whether any restrictions existed in the law in this regard; access to sports and sporting activities for persons with disabilities; the participation of persons with disabilities in international cooperation programmes; and to describe how data on persons with disabilities was collected and analysed.

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, asked how Panama intended to realize the right to inclusive education for all children with disabilities and particularly for girls with disability.  The quality of inclusive education was very low and children with disabilities were still separated from others – they might be in the same school but they were in separate classrooms.  What action would be taken to end all forms of corporal punishment against children with disabilities?

CARLOS ALBERTO PARRA DUSSAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Panama, thanked the delegation for its extensive replies which would assist the Committee to prepare its concluding observations and went on to express concern about the two models of education – inclusive and special education, and asked the delegation to explain this system and reassure the Committee about what was being done to ensure inclusive education for all children with disabilities.  Who was the competent State authority to handle the population data?  What would the Government body in charge of monitoring the compliance with the Convention look like, would it conform to the Paris Principles and would civil society organizations be able to participate?

Response by the Delegation

Panama was pleased to inform the Committee that on 10 August 2017 the Roadmap on Education had been completed, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including children with disabilities, their parents, representative organizations of persons with disabilities, teachers and others.  The Roadmap aimed to address the challenges and it contained 37 public policies which addressed issues of quality education, equity, teacher training, and investment in education, among others.  Special actions were planned to integrate into education all children and youth who were outside of the system at the moment, with particular attention being paid to indigenous children and children with disabilities.  A committee would soon be established to support the implementation of the national education policy and to achieve high-quality education as a fundamental human rights.

Special education had undertaken various stages of development with the aim of reducing barriers to education.  It was one of the stages towards inclusive education.  There were 21 special education schools at the moment and Panama was now refocusing care and expanding services, particularly in indigenous areas. 

More than 75 per cent of registered students with disability attended inclusive schools and 25 per cent were in special schools.  There were seven centres with Braille services which issued products for the use of the blind.  Panama was harmonizing legislation toward an inclusive education model and would recognize for the first time the right to education on the basis of equal opportunity.  A study on inclusive education had been undertaken in 2014 and Panama had since been working on training teachers and building the capacity for inclusive education: to date more than 15,000 teachers had been trained.  Panama was developing regulations for the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty, which it had ratified in 2016.

In terms of support for persons with disabilities and their families, a Family Impresa project was in place to increase economic independence and through this programme more than 6,000 people had been supported.  In addition, persons with disabilities and their families received support to meet their health and education costs, while the Guardian Angel project provided economic support to 16,000 persons requiring constant care.  Parents and carers of persons with disabilities were entitled to 144 hours that were not considered a vacation, to enable them to provide rehabilitation services.

There were no legal restrictions for persons with disabilities to get married.  The only impediments to contracting marriage were for same sex couples, blood relatives or persons convicted of murder.

Persons with disabilities had the right to work and equal salary, while a quota of two per cent was compulsory for companies with over 25 employees.  Through regular visits, labour inspectors were building the capacity of employers to fulfil their legal obligations.  To date, more than 3,000 persons with disabilities were employed, particularly in the civil service, where over 700 persons with disabilities worked.  Panama was conscious of the need to further invest in building the capacity of persons with disabilities to integrate in the labour market, particularly for indigenous persons with disabilities.  In order to receive home help, a person needed to contact their health centre.  Palliative care was also provided on request.

A commission was in place, led by the National Disability Secretariat and composed of 28 institutions tasked with collating information and data on persons with disabilities, and it based its work on the Washington Group.  The commission included all types of disability in their data, even light or temporary disability, as Panama promoted equality and the equal protection by the legal framework for all.

Concluding Remarks

MAGALI DIAZ, Deputy Director of the National Disability Secretariat of Panama, in her concluding remarks, said that strengthening the social inclusion of persons with disabilities was a key part of the policies on education, labour and social protection.  This dialogue was a great opportunity in which the delegation spoke openly and transparently about achievements and recognized the institutional and legislative barriers which sometimes made it difficult to implement the State obligations.  Panama was working to achieve in the near future the full recognition of legal capacity for all, to strengthen mechanisms for the prevention and punishment of human rights violations of all, and in this, it was ready to continue to work with the Committee and with civil society.  The golden rule for continued progress involved the respect for the agreements and an open and constructive dialogue with all stakeholders, with the aim of guaranteeing the rights of the more than 400,000 persons with disabilities in the country. 

CARLOS ALBERTO PARRA DUSSAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Panama, thanked the delegation for a constructive dialogue in which the Committee had learned a lot about the country and the efforts to implement the Convention.  The Rapporteur appreciated the open recognition by Panama of the challenges and gaps in the implementation of the Convention, and expressed hope that law 25 of 2017 would provide a high level of protection for persons with disabilities and enable the full implementation of the Convention.

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee was pleased to have had an opportunity to discuss the implementation of the Convention in Panama and hoped that its concluding observations would provide further guidance for the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities in the country.

____________________

For use of the information media; not an official record