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

Committee on the Rights of Persons  
  with Disabilities

25 August 2016

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

At the beginning of the meeting, the Committee observed one minute of silence in honour of lives lost in the earthquake that struck Italy on 24 August.

Maurizio Serra, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations Office at Geneva, expressed his gratitude for the outpour of compassion from all parts of Italy and from abroad.

Presenting the report, Gianludovico De Martino, Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said that Italy had ratified the Convention in 2009 and in 2013 it adopted the two-year programme of action to promote the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities, prepared by the National Observatory on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.  Almost € 17 billion were allocated annually for persons with disabilities, in addition to about € 1.7 billion spent by municipalities.  The Ministry of Education alone spent € 6.4 billion for the provision of special needs teachers, while an additional € 700 million were allocated for educational and communication assistants for students with disabilities every year.  An innovative model of national intervention in favour of independent living for persons with disabilities was expected to be launched in 2017, while the second plan of action for persons with disabilities, scheduled to be released mid-September, built on the progress of its predecessor and added the actions on the collection of data on the condition of persons with disabilities. 

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts congratulated Italy on its National Observatory on the Status of Persons with Disabilities and accompanying plan to implement the Convention, which was an excellent way to harmonize laws and policies.  Experts expressed concern about regional variations across Italy and unequal access of persons with disabilities to services depending on where they lived.  They stressed the need to appoint a focal person for the rights of persons with disabilities in each region who would monitor the extent to which equal treatment was applied across the nation.  Italy was in a unique position in terms of inclusive education because it had in place an education system which for decades had been inclusive in its broadest sense; it would not take much for Italy to become a trailblazer and a role model country for inclusive education.  It was necessary to make the paradigm shift so that persons with disabilities were regarded as equal persons in society and not a burden and someone who drained the welfare State of its resources. 

Data and statistics were the bedrock of evidence of disability in any country, so Experts urged Italy to collect data and produce statistics in order to ground early intervention and support policies for children with disabilities, and to demonstrate how barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities were being removed.  Committee Experts recognized the efforts and resources dedicated to receiving and hosting migrants and refugees, and inquired about the access to support and services of those among them who had disabilities.

Mr. De Martino in his closing remarks, thanked the Committee and said that this constructive dialogue took place at a perfect point as Italy was some two weeks away from adopting its next action plan on disabilities.  

In her concluding remarks, Diane Kingston, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the report of Italy, urged Italy to review the system of support administrator for supportive decision-making, to recognize sign language, and to establish an independent national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles.

The delegation of Italy included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health, National Institute of Statistics, National Office against Racial Discrimination, National Association of Italian Municipalities, and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The concluding observations on the report of Italy will be made public on Friday, 2 September 2016 and will be available here.

The Committee’s public meetings in English and Spanish, with closed captioning and International Sign Language, are webcast at http://webtv.un.org/

Italy was the last country scheduled for review during the sixteenth session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Committee’s next public meeting will be at 10 a.m. on Friday, 26 August, when it will hold a public reading of the draft General Comment on Article 24 on the right to inclusive education.

PART3-Response by the Delegation


In 2004, Italy had put in place a system of support administrator to facilitate independent decision-making by persons with disabilities, which was clearly in line with the Convention.  The issue would be further addressed and independent decision-making would be strengthened by the new national plan on disabilities prepared by the National Observatory, due to be adopted in autumn 2016.

Regions had full competence in social policies; social measures seen in the national context may vary in the extent of their application; that was why, the Government worked with the regions to uniform all social services aiming to better define the so-called minimum level of social assistance.  Parliament had recently approved Constitutional reforms, which if adopted, would transfer to the central Government a degree of coordination with regard to social policies carried out by the regions.

Concerning questions on deinstitutionalization and independent living, the Ministry of Labour was committed since 2013 to financing around 250 experimental projects for independent living in cooperation with regions and representative organizations of persons with disabilities.  The model was coherent with Article 19 of the Convention.  Deinstitutionalization was a cornerstone of this approach, and Italy was moving toward a model of small groups in which the full autonomy of persons with disabilities was promoted.  The National Fund for Non-autonomy received around € 400 million annually to support living at home for persons with disabilities.

A bill on the inclusion on deaf people and the recognition of sign language had been presented to Parliament in 2007, and at the time it had reflected the common positions between various organizations of persons with disabilities.  There was a need for representative organizations of persons with disabilities to reach an agreement on the modalities of the inclusion of deaf people and the recognition of sign language, in order to present the new bill to Parliament.

Data on sanctions for non-respect of accessibility standards and requirements, including in judicial cases on this matter, was not available at the moment.  Accessibility was the key issue for cities all over Italy and there were good practices, such as Milano and its Expo,0 which had been visited by some 35,000 persons with disabilities.  Another example was the town of Matera which had appointed an accessibility manager to prepare the town for its participation in the European City of Culture in 2019.  The respect of the principle of accessibility in all tenders for public goods and services was guaranteed by the law.  There were no explicit accessibility requirements in public tenders.  The National Observatory had proposed the inclusion of accessibility in the new Code for Public Procurement which was being adopted this year, to ensure that this clause was used as one of the criteria in the evaluation of tenders.

With regard to forced abortion, a delegate explained that it was forbidden in the law, and that abortion on women with disabilities was only performed in cases where pregnancy presented a risk to the life of the woman.

Italy had been an active participant in the negotiation and preparation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and welcomed that the Conference had held a special session on persons with disabilities in situations of disaster.  Italy was now in the process of translating the provisions of the Sendai Framework into its framework at different levels, including in its development cooperation strategy, which was in the final stages of revision.  Italy paid special attention to the Council of Europe ethical principles on disaster risk reduction in people’s resilience which was based on the non-discrimination principle.  Under the national plan on disabilities, a Working Group had been set up on humanitarian aid and persons with disabilities, and the delegation stressed that addressing the needs of persons with disabilities in emergency situations required specialised skills given the highly differentiated target group and differences in types of disabilities.  The Working Group had drafted the humanitarian aid and disability mechanism document, adopted in November 2015, which referenced the international framework and the principles in the field of humanitarian aid and disability and illustrated how to consider the specific vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities in disasters.

Concerning health care and benefits for foreigners, including those with disabilities, a delegate said that there was a need to distinguish between different categories of foreigners.  Emergency health care, as well as essential social and continued healthcare, was guaranteed to foreigners who were in the possession of the foreigner temporarily presence card; this card also entitled them to pregnancy and maternity benefits on a par with Italians.  Foreign children were entitled to urgent, essential and long-term care for accidents and illnesses.  Medical and health personnel were explicitly forbidden from reporting to security authorities those foreigners who were not in compliance with the entry and permanence regulations, nor were they allowed to ask any documents attesting to residence.  An agreement had been signed in 2012 between various regions to generously interpret this legislation and one of the main points was that all irregular foreigners under the age of 18 had to be registered with the National Health Services.  Foreigners in a regular situation, as well as European Union citizens and members of their families, were individually responsible to register with the National Health Service.  Social benefits were extended to all European Union citizens with a residence permit in Italy, as prescribed by the European Union directives.

Migrants currently arriving to Italy were entitled to emergency health care at the place of arrival, and had access to health care while in reception centres.  They had the right to seek asylum and were entitled to the same health care and services as Italian citizens and were exempt of any health-related fees.  The National Health System provided hospitalization and continued care to those migrants who were in need, including those with disabilities.  In 2016, more than 70,000 migrants had arrived in Italy, of which 14,000 were unaccompanied minors.  Disaggregated data on disability was not available.  In 2015, the reception network had seen the construction of 430 reception centres, of which 30 were specifically constructed with persons with disabilities in mind; there were 280 places within the reception system for persons with disabilities and persons with mental trauma.  Italy was in the process of financing a further increase of its reception capacity, including 15 centres with 300 places for people who required specialist health care.  Those were in fact referral centres for migrants with disabilities, mental health trauma, and psychological conditions, who had been residents in first level reception centres.

Italy was not a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families because the law treated all workers equally, with additional protection provided to migrant workers under the relevant International Labour Organization Conventions.

The Department for Equal Opportunities, a part of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, had conducted a number of awareness campaigns on the issues of the human rights of women, and violence and discrimination against women, including women with disabilities.  The National Office against Discrimination organized regular awareness-raising campaigns and also received complaints for discrimination; it could not intervene directly but referred victims of discrimination to the Forensic National Council which was a body of lawyers which controlled a fund for legal aid and support.  In 2014/2015 there had been 30 complaints filed for discrimination.

The National Plan for Childhood 2016 aimed to support the integration of children with disabilities and special needs, as well as addressing child poverty, including children with disabilities.  The law required that everyone undergoing a medical treatment had to sign a free and informed consent; the only exception were emergency situations where the patient was unconscious.  Parents of minors had the obligation to express concern for the treatment of their children.  Italian law regulated clinical experimentation and was based on the principle of human dignity, thus it forbade any medical experimentation on anyone without free and informed consent.

The approach in Italy to intersex children was that sexual disorders were linked to genetic background at birth and chromosomal disorders.  In 2014, there were 34 operations on intersex children, of which 23 had been conducted on children under the age of 10.  The Italian recommendations on bioethics had developed recommendations for health professionals in order to avoid unnecessary mutilations and prevent the loss of procreation capacity.   

On deinstitutionalization from judiciary psychiatric hospitals, a delegate said that Law 81 of 2014 had provided for closure of all judiciary psychiatric hospitals for people affected by mental disorders; those that had to stay in custody because they had committed crimes were moved to new social sanitary residences for security measures, where they received appropriate assistance and treatment.  The institutions were administered by regions and were not part of the penitentiary system.  There were 80 people in social sanitary residences for security measures, and 50 were still in psychiatric hospitals; they would be transferred to residences as soon as they were put in place all regions.

There had been a cut in the National Social Policy Fund’s budget, but the quota allocated for disabilities had increased.  Many regions in Italy were promoting formal recognition of the work carried out by caregivers, especially women, and Parliament had recently presented a bill on this issue.  The National Fund for Non-autonomy provided economic contributions and benefits for caregivers, especially women and families.  Italy was trying to put in place a system of services for persons with disabilities – social services and public services, which would free and enable women to return to their jobs.

The 1978 law on closure of psychiatric hospitals had introduced important changes in the system of treatment of people with mental health problems, which today was based on a network of community-based facilities.  Treatment for acute problems was delivered in general hospitals in wards for psychiatric services for diagnostics and treatment.  Compulsory treatments were limited as much as possible, and should only be considered when necessary.  The 1978 law was still in force.  All national plans of action were based on the principle that the intervention must be based on the needs of the person, fully respecting the severity of the disability in order to promote the highest possible level of autonomy.

Questions by the Committee Experts


In the final round of comments and questions, a Committee Expert recognized the great strides that Italy had made in the community-based treatment of persons with intellectual and mental disabilities, and asked for further information on how those services were set up and organized.  There was still a concern about the lack of accessibility to sexual and reproductive health services for persons with disabilities, which was also due to attitudes of health personnel and prejudice toward the sexual and reproductive health of persons with disabilities.   What was being done to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoyed an adequate standard of living and that their basic needs were cared for in a dignified way?  What was the state of play concerning the establishment of a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles?

Deaf children were not provided with sign language interpreters in schools, but were instead assigned a communication assistant.  What were the qualifications of those assistants, were they prepared to provide communication support to deaf children, particularly in light of the fact that Italian sign language was not officially recognized?  Which incentives were available for the employment of persons with disabilities. especially women, in the open labour market, and which initiatives were in place for increasing employment rates of persons with disabilities?

Children with disabilities were considered less equal than others and were required to adopt a special identity in order to preserve their right to education.  What plans were in place to support schools to practice inclusive education, change attitudes for teachers towards inclusive education, and create a national monitoring system for inclusive education which would be in line with the Convention?  How would Italy practice and maintain inclusive education which would meet specific needs of the blind, deaf, and deaf-blind people?  What measures were in place to ensure accessibility to health services to people with chronic diseases and other invisible disabilities? 

The delegation was asked to inform on concrete measures to assist the many persons with disabilities living in poverty; measures to guarantee the right to vote by increasing accessibility of voting booths and ensuring the presence of sign language interpreters in all polling stations; data on which decisions on the allocation of resources for disability programmes, including deinstitutionalization, were based; and a system in place to monitor the quality of inclusive education.

Experts inquired about the use of sign language interpretation in television programmes, examples of campaigns concerning violence against women which specifically mentioned women with disabilities, and the access of persons with disabilities to assisted reproduction programmes.

Further, the delegation was asked to inform on the resources allocated to provide reasonable accommodation to thousands of children with disabilities in inclusive education, as well as on reasonable accommodation measures in place to ensure that persons with disabilities could study whatever they chose and joined any profession of their choosing.  Experts hailed Italy for producing musical sheets in accessible formats, and asked about steps taken to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty.

A Committee Expert inquired about measures to increase the representation of persons with disabilities in political life, at the federal, regional and local levels, and especially to accelerate the participation of women with disabilities.

DIANE KINGSTON, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Italy, asked about plans to conduct an assessment of the impact of austerity measures on children and adults with disabilities so that further reduction which pushed them into poverty could be avoided.  The right to vote in Italy was constitutionally restricted based on civil capacity, which was inconsistent with the Convention.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, inquired about the intentions to amend the provisions of the Criminal Law related to the legal incapacity of people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, and about security measures applicable to those deemed unfit to stand trial.  What was happening with the plans to amend the law on inclusive education in connection with the Sustainable Development Goal N°4?

Response by the Delegation


Italy had accepted the Universal Periodic Review recommendations to set up a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles; eight proposals to this effect were being examined by Parliament and there was a significant political will in the country to proceed in this direction.

The 2014 census contained four questions concerning disabilities and disaggregated data would be provided to the Committee in an electronic form.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, national associations of the blind and deaf had been established; they were supported by the State and they cooperated with institutions at national levels and provided support in facilitating access and accessibility for persons with disabilities.  This system was based on the constitutional principle of the self-organization of society to provide services.

The average annual income of persons with disabilities was €16,300 versus €18,400 for a person without disabilities.  All people enjoyed equal rights without any discrimination on the basis of disability and this was also applicable in access to assisted reproduction.  Relatives and family of those with disabilities received regular support, including a two-year-long paid leave from work.  Abortion was only performed if the life of the mother was in danger; or if the mother regularly took medications which could harm the foetus, and expert evaluation of comparative risks was undertaken.  Italy spent €24 billion to support teachers in inclusive education; disability certificates were required from children with disabilities in order to understand the types of disabilities and organize the teaching accordingly.

One of the measures to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was the review of the programming strategy for development, with a view of including and mainstreaming the Sustainable Development Goals throughout the development cooperation.  Additionally, efforts were being made to ensure a high level of coherence between external and internal actions on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  The latest official development assistance figures had just been published by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which showed that Italy was among the few members with the largest increase in official development assistance; it stood now at 0.22 per cent of gross domestic product which, although far from the target of 0.7 per cent, still represented a positive trend and a change from several years of contraction.

In 2015, Italy had adopted the Law N°107 called Buona Scuola (Good School) which provided for the adoption of new decrees to better define the educational system for students with disabilities.  It provided the definition of minimal standards for educational, social and health services to guarantee inclusion throughout the country.  Italy considered it fundamental to define the criteria in order to match the needs with the support services.

Concluding Remarks


GIANLUDOVICO DE MARTINO, Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, thanked the Committee and said that this constructive dialogue had taken place at a perfect point as Italy was some two weeks away from adopting its next action plan on disabilities. 

DIANE KINGSTON, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Italy, expressed her disappointment about the quality of the dialogue.  The Rapporteur urged Italy to review its system of administration for supportive decision-making, to recognize sign language, and to establish an independent national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, thanked the civil society organizations for their contribution and thanked Italy for its contributions to the beauty in this world.


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