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

Committee on the Rights of Persons
  with Disabilities

25 August 2015

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

Presenting the report, Fazila Jeewah-Daureeawoo, Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity and Reform Institutions of Mauritius, reaffirmed the commitment of Mauritius as a Welfare State and said that the amount of money spent on social expenditure had increased from 24 per cent of total government expenditure in 2006/07 to 31 per cent in 2015/16.  Mauritius was proud to be one of the few developing countries which provided disability benefits and old-age pensions on an universal basis, and had set up the National Coordinating Committee in 1986 to advise the Government on disability issues.  The new Disability National Policy Paper and Action Plan 2007-2012 embodied the shift to a social model of disability and rested on key principles of empowerment, removal of barriers, and integration in mainstream society.  Further, Mauritius had adopted an official policy of inclusive education and had enacted the Equal Opportunities Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of impairment, while the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Equal Opportunities Tribunal had been set up to increase avenues for redress against disability-based discrimination.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts expressed concern about fragmented legislation in relation to disability and that different pieces of legislation still used the outdated medical approach to disability, including in the Equal Opportunities Act, and asked how would Mauritius move towards a social and human rights based model of disability in current and prospective legislation.  The delegation was asked about the system of participation of persons with disabilities in the design, implementation and monitoring of the laws and policies, in particular in the design of the Disability Bill and the Disability Strategy and Action Plan 2015-2020, and to explain how persons with disabilities, and in particular women and children, were protected from violence and discrimination.  Mauritius needed to establish an inclusive education system across the country and address the ongoing segregation of children in mainstream schools and the existing physical, socio-economic, and cultural barriers, and stigmatization faced by children with disability, particularly those with intellectual disabilities.  The guardianship regime must be revised to allow for autonomous decision-making by persons with disabilities, regardless of their impairment, and substitute decision-making must be replaced with the supported decision-making model, stressed Committee Experts and inquired about measures to support the independent and autonomous living of persons with disabilities in communities.

In concluding remarks, Safak Pavey, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Mauritius, said that one of the purposes of the dialogue was to support States in building good practices and called upon Mauritius to provide greater investment and support for the creation of an inclusive education model.

Ms. Jeewah-Daureeawoo welcomed technical assistance and cooperation with other countries, including in the adoption of disabled user friendly information and communication technologies and reiterated the commitment of Mauritius to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities and their seamless integration in all parts of the society.

The delegation of Mauritius included representatives of the Ministry of Social Security, National Solidarity and Reform Institutions, Attorney’s General Office, and the Permanent Mission of Mauritius to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Mauritius at the end of the session, on Friday, 4 September 2015.  The next public meeting of the Committee is at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Brazil CRPD/C/BRA/1.

Report

The initial report of Mauritius can be accessed here: CRPD/C/MUS/1.

Presentation of the Report


FAZILA JEEWAH-DAUREEAWOO, Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity and Reform Institutions of Mauritius, said that in 2010 Mauritius had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and had since taken administrative and legislative measures to fulfil its obligations under the Convention.  Despite intermittent periods of economic downturns, Mauritius had never reneged on its commitment as a welfare State and a panoply of community based services, cash transfer schemes, social assistance, pensions, and non-governmental organization and state-run programmes had always been made available to support all Mauritians to face the vicissitudes of life, especially those at the very lowest bottom of the social ladder.  The amount of money spent on social expenditure had been increasing exponentially from 24 per cent of total government expenditure in 2006/07 to reach an estimated 31 per cent in 2015/16.  During the same period, the expenditure on social protection as a percentage of gross domestic product had surged from five to seven per cent.  In early 1950s, the Mauritian population had been struck by the polio epidemic which had left survivors disabled for life.  Instead of leaving the whole burden on non-governmental organizations and volunteers, the Government had begun to assume a major role in the empowerment of persons with disabilities.  In 1976, it had come up with a revolutionary social measure to provide a social benefit to all persons having more than 60 per cent disability, irrespective of income and work status, and Mauritius was one of the few developing countries which had provided disability benefits and old-age pensions of a universal basis.  The National Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons Act had been enacted in 1986 to set up a National Coordinating Committee to advise the Government on disability issues.

In the context of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1992), Mauritius had promulgated in 1988 the Trust Fund for Disabled Persons Act and the Employment of Disabled Persons Act, which had represented the first affirmative actions as they had created provisions for a quota system for the employment of persons with disabilities.  The two pieces of legislation had been merged in 1996 to become the Training and Employment of Disabled Persons Act.  With the signature of the Convention, an important paradigm shift had taken place and Mauritius had adopted the social model of disability and had elaborated a national Policy Paper and Action Plan 2007-2012 which had embodied the new approach and the key principles of empowerment, removal of barriers and integration in mainstream society.  By 2012, Mauritius had, inter alia, adopted an official policy of inclusive education, enacted the Equal Opportunities Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of impairment, and set up a national database on disability.  The first volume of sign language had been published, there was a pool of trained sign language interpreters and a weekly news bulletin was broadcast in sign language to the general public.  Avenues for redress against discrimination on disability basis had been increased with the setting up of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Equal Opportunities Tribunal, while all new constructions were now required to ensure access for persons with disabilities.  The vision of the newly-elected Government was to create a disability-inclusive society where human dignity and the rights of persons with disabilities was respected, their talents and potential were valued on an equal basis with others, and barriers were removed.

Questions by the Committee Experts

SAFAK PAVEY, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Mauritius, noted with satisfaction the commitment of Mauritius to withdraw the reservations to articles 9, 11 and 24 and said that this process had not been initiated yet.  While welcoming the efforts in including discrimination based on disability in its relevant legislation, it was to be noted that the legislation in relation to disability or containing a disability component was fragmented and that various definitions using a medical approach to disability were being used in different pieces of legislation and in particular the Equal Opportunities Act.  It was not clear how disabled peoples’ representative organizations and non-governmental organizations were involved in the design, development, implementation and monitoring, especially with regards to the Disability Bill and the Disability Strategy and Action Plan 2015-2020.  What concrete plans were in place in terms of moving away from the medical approach to a social and  human rights based approach model of disability, both with regards to current and prospective legislation?  While recognizing the intention of Mauritius to revise the legislative framework with regards to the exercise of legal capacity, and stepping away from substituted decision making towards supported decision making, the Country Rapporteur expressed her concern by the wide, continued and broad application and existence of the institutionalization and guardianship regime across legislation. 

Mauritius needed to establish an inclusive education system across the country.  Segregation of children in the educational system, now located in mainstream schools as well, continued to be inconsistent with inclusive education as well as accessibility challenges.  Another concern was the physical, socio-economic, and cultural barriers, including stigmatization faced by children with disability, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, which prevented their full inclusion in the society and schooling, and reflected itself in low employment and isolation as adults.  What plans and measures were in the pipeline to build an inclusive system of education?  Getting rid of discrimination of all kinds lay in making the possibilities available to children to grow together on an equal basis and with equal opportunities, and growing into adults that formed part of a much more inclusive and happier society.

Another Committee Expert noted scant information available on measures to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities, particularly among the most vulnerable of disabled persons, i.e. children and women, and asked about the time-frame for the inclusion of women with disabilities in a cross-cutting manner in all policies.  Another Expert found that some legislation was not in line with the Convention, particularly in terms of the definition of disability, which made the medical model of disability prevalent in the country.  Derogatory terminology, i.e. invalid, was still being used in certain pieces of legislation.

Experts asked how the law was designed to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination, including discrimination based on disability that fell outside of the scope of the Mauritius concept of disability, and the number of cases and outcomes of cases regarding discrimination on the grounds of disability, including sanctions for perpetrators.  What measures were in place to ensure that existing buildings were accessible, and what percentage of means of public transport were accessible?  How were persons with disabilities portrayed in the media?

The delegation was asked about its understanding of the concept of progressive implementation of the Convention, the role of persons with disabilities in the implementation of disability policy, and the mechanisms in place for the monitoring of the national action plan and policy on disability, and the criteria used to assess a person’s disability.  

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, asked about the implementation of the recommendations issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning children with disability.

Response by the Delegation

Mauritius strived to ensure the full inclusion of women with disabilities in all spheres of life and policy and legislation measures in the area of women rights applied equally to women with disabilities.  A Committee had been set up to examine the inclusion of a separate article on women with disabilities in the Disability Act.  The Protection from Domestic Violence Act 1997 equally applied to women with disabilities, and the National Action Plan to combat domestic violence had been launched.  The National Council for the Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons was in the process of setting up a group pf women with disabilities to enable them to advocate for their rights.  Also in place was the National Action Plan to end gender-based violence 2012-2015, and it covered women and girls with disability as well. 

A draft Disability Bill had been prepared and was currently being vetted; the Bill would see the change from the medical to social model of disability and would provide for the promotion of the full enjoyment of  human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities, accessibility to an economic, social and cultural environment and to health, information and communication for persons with disabilities.  It would establish the National Disability Authority, and the Disability Arbitration Tribunal.  Most importantly, it would incorporate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol into the domestic law.  The Children’s Bill would ensure that the rights, needs and interests of children, including children with disability, were given full consideration by each and all.

Mauritius had made reservations on article 9, because it felt at the time that adding Braille to all signs would represent too big a financial burden, particularly because the law on the matter had not been in place.  The regulations were presently being worked out by the Building Advisory Council, which called for the provision of Braille at cash machines, lifts, airports and other strategic places.  Once this was in place, the reservation would be removed.  With regards to reservations to Article 11, the delegation said that a comprehensive disaster risk reduction scheme was awaiting approval, following which, the Risk Reduction Disaster Management Bill would be prepared.

Inclusive education in a progressive manner was being implemented, and since the adoption of the legislation in 2007, a series of measures had been in place to implement it.  At the secondary and tertiary level, education was always inclusive, while a series of measures were in place to increase the inclusion of children with disability at the primary level.

Mauritius was committed to the social model of disability, and to the inclusion of persons with disabilities and their accessibility.  The new Building Control Act had introduced the concept of accessibility in a comprehensive manner.  There were incentives available for retrofitting of existing buildings.  All private companies were obliged to invest two per cent of their profits into non-governmental organization projects in favour of vulnerable populations.  All non-governmental organizations working with children with disability received regular visits by the Child Development Unit of the Ministry of Gender to ensure that there was no abuse.

A legislative framework to deal with discrimination was in place, starting from equal protection granted by the Constitution.  The Equal Opportunities Act 2012 prohibited both direct and indirect discrimination on a number of grounds, including impairment, and in various spheres of activities, including in education, employment, access to goods and services, accommodation, and others. The guardianship regime in place aimed to safeguard the interests of the persons with disabilities and allow them to participate in an indirect manner through their guardians or sub-guardians in decisions made on their behalf. 

In terms of remedies for the violation of the rights of persons with disabilities, there was the police and the office of public prosecutions, and complaints could also made to the National Human Rights Commission, to the Office of the Ombudsman, and to the Office of the Attorney General, while individual complaints could be made to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as Mauritius was a party to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights; children with disability could lodge a complaint with the Ombudsperson for Children. 

The percentage of disability was calculated using the guidelines and the findings of the  medical board, and it qualified disability as mild, moderate or severe.

Questions by the Experts

Guardianship regimes must be revised to allow for autonomous decision-making by persons with disabilities, regardless of their impairment, and States must replace substitute decision-making with a supported decision-making model, stressed an Expert.  Persons with disabilities who were institutionalized were automatically deprived from their legal capacity – were there any plans to introduce supported, community-based autonomous living?

Another Expert asked for a clarification on accessibility to police stations, court buildings and tribunals, and on relative training provided to the police and law enforcement officers. 

The delegation was further asked about measures to ensure that all children, regardless of their disability, were registered at birth, the number of people in institutions, and measures to enable people to live in communities or live independently, and to comment on how cases of abuse of children with disability by non-governmental organizations or service providers were being dealt with.  

SAFAK PAVEY, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Mauritius, asked how cases of violence against persons with disabilities were being handled and resolved and about the outcomes of discrimination claims.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, said that there were reports about violence and ill treatment against persons with disabilities, including children, and asked whether Mauritius had established a torture national preventive mechanism, and how it took into account disability.  In what instances was a person with disabilities found legally incompetent and what was the fate of such persons in this case?

Response by the Delegation

In order to include persons with disabilities in the community, the Government had put in place a number of measures, including free public passport, pensions, careers, allowances, health care, medical visits to children with high needs, and others.  All measures were taken to ensure that persons with disabilities owned property, controlled their affairs and had access to loans, and that they were not arbitrarily deprived from their property.  Persons with disabilities living in the community had the right to vote, marry, and take decisions in relation to their health care. 

Courts took special measures to ensure access to justice for persons with disabilities, for example by having courtrooms on ground floors, or having ramps or lifts for those who wished to access them.  Judges and law enforcement officers were being trained and sensitized on the needs of persons with disabilities, services of interpreters were available by specialist organizations, and persons with disabilities could access free legal aid in case they were unable to pay themselves.  There had been cases in the past where children with disability had not been registered at birth, but measures were in place to ensure that all children received their birth registration certificate, which was also required in order to enter school.  Currently, there were 475 adults and two children in institutions in Mauritius.  Persons with disabilities were subject to the same legislation governing detention, whereby they enjoyed the same legal safeguards as any other citizen; however, police officers had been sensitized and trained on the needs of persons with disabilities, and sign language interpreters were provided when needed.

A series of measures had been taken to promote access to inclusive education, including retrofitting of all schools, releasing of children with disability earlier, providing sign language interpretation, and training of teachers in inclusive education.  In 2000, only 1,639 children with disability had passed the primary school certificate, while in 2011, there were 6,881 children with disability who had completed primary school.  As for high school certificate, 409 students with disability had obtained in it 2000, while in 2011, the number had risen to 1,209 children with disability, all of whom had completed their schooling in mainstream education.

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert was concerned about persons with multiple disabilities, such as deaf-blind and those particularly excluded, such as those living in remote areas, and asked about the timeframe for the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Convention.  How would persons with disabilities be involved in this mechanism?

The delegation was asked about the legal status of sign language and Braille and the progress made in terms of accessibility of broadcasts, such as an audio description or captioning, in particular for new technologies; whether the existing special schools were being reformed to provide specialist support to inclusive education; and the plans concerning the ratification of the Marrakech Convention to Facilitate Access to published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities.  Experts also asked how the participation of persons with disabilities in public and political life was supported, whether Mauritius would establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles, and how persons with disabilities and their representative organizations would be involved. 

What support was available for the employment of persons with disabilities in the open labour market? Employment was one of the most crucial factors for persons with disabilities; in Mauritius, there was a three per cent quota for employment of persons with disabilities.  How was monitoring of compliance of private sector employers with the quotas carried out and would quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities also be introduced for the public sector employers?
 
Response by the Delegation

The Government was working on the national action plan to promote sign language; the first phase had been completed with the launching of the first dictionary of sign language.  Mauritius was the first country in the world to have deaf persons presenting the news on the television.  All children, including children with disability, had the right to compulsory schooling until the age of 16; registration exercises had been undertaken to identify all children with disability out of school, so that adequate action could be taken.  At the moment, there were 12 mainstream preschools in the country, attended by 199 children with disability.  Once a disability was detected in a child, he or she was referred to the specialists, and community-based rehabilitation services regularly made home visits for early detection of disability.  The Ministry of Education had a special programme for early identification of impairments in school children, implemented through regular visits to schools by medical doctors.

In terms of international cooperation and technical assistance, Mauritius had a memorandum of understanding for sharing of knowledge and transfer of technology with several countries, including China, South Africa, Brazil, and others. 

The employment of persons with disabilities had been on the increase, from 4,203 in 2000 to 8,435 in 2011.  The law establishing quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities had been amended to now require State companies to apply three per cent quotas for persons with disabilities.  There was a non-governmental organization which provided vocational and professional training to persons with disabilities, while the Government’s training portfolio for persons with disabilities had been expanded to include new skills, such as the manufacture of wheelchairs. 

Sign language and Braille still did not have legal status and this issue was under consideration by the Government, which was examining the possibility of the ratification of the Marrakech Convention whose provisions had been integrated in the new Copyright Act.  Mauritius was adopting the United Nations guidelines for the collection of statistics on persons with disabilities, and it had been a strong advocate for the inclusion of disability in the post-2015 development agenda.

Concluding Remarks

FAZILA JEEWAH-DAUREEAWOO, Minister of Social Security and Reform Institutions, expressed appreciation for the interactive dialogue on the efforts by Mauritius to implement the Convention and hoped that the Experts had a better idea about the policy and legislative framework in place.  Mauritius welcomed technical assistance and cooperation with other countries, including in the adoption of disabled user friendly information and communication technologies.  Mauritius was committed to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities and their seamless integration in all parts of the society.

SAFAK PAVEY, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Mauritius, thanked the delegation for their good will and open attitude and said that the purpose of the dialogue was not only to examine the implementation of the Convention, but also to support States in building good practices.  Mauritius had a very good potential for the creation of an inclusive education model and for this more support for the vibrant non-governmental organizations and civil society was needed.  The Committee would ensure that its recommendations were guiding in the best possible way and hoped that Mauritius would soon lift its reservations and ratify the Optional Protocol.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, extended greetings to persons with disabilities of Mauritius and all those who followed the dialogue on webcast, and thanked the delegation for their receptiveness to the Committee’s concluding observations.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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