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Human Rights Council concludes annual meeting on the rights of the child with a panel focusing on good practices in including children with disabilities in education settings

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4 Март 2019

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON 

4 March 2019

Hear Address by the Prime Minister of Somalia

The Human Rights Council this afternoon concluded its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion on including children with disabilities in education settings: good practices and accountability.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council heard a statement by Hassan Ali Khayre, Prime Minister of Somalia, who said that Somalia’s election to the Council was an encouragement and support by the global human rights community towards the institutionalization of the promotion and protection of human rights in Somalia and the rest of the world.  Somalia continued to engage in a structured peace and state-building process as a strategy to return the country to a functional post-conflict State. 

Walter Stevens, Permanent Representative of the European Union to the United Nations Office at Geneva and discussion moderator, said that this session would be an opportunity to look into good examples on how to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of children with disabilities.  The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union stated that the European Union respected the rights of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence. 

Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, regretted the fact that in the twenty-first century, children with disabilities continued to suffer, emphasizing the need to move from diagnosis to action.  This was why the Special Representative had been preparing a campaign for the good treatment of girls, boys and adolescents with disabilities from around the world together with United Nations Children’s Fund.

The Council then watched a video produced by the United Nations Children’s Fund on the 10 principles from the campaign for the good treatment of girls, boys and adolescents with disabilities from around the world.  Ms. Soledad Cisternas called on States to disseminate the materials.

Afshan Khan, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia of the United Nations Children’s Fund, emphasized that the empowerment of children with disabilities started by ensuring that all children with disabilities had access to learning and education from an early age.  Quality inclusive education was about appreciating learners’ diversity, valuing their well-being, respecting their inherent dignity and autonomy, and acknowledging individual requirements.

Bushra Zulfiqar, Education Director, Save the Children Bangladesh, regretted that 30 years after the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, there was limited progress in reducing the number of out of school children.  Children with disabilities were more likely to be out of school or to leave school before completing primary and secondary school than their typically developing peers.  She stressed that children with disabilities and civil society were key actors in holding governments accountable.

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers emphasized that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child both required education to be provided to all children.  Speakers noted that school had to be school for everyone, offering a chance for every child.  They also emphasized that it was fundamental to train teachers, exchange best practices and experiences, and develop awareness campaigns to address the negative attitudes towards disability.  Other speakers stressed that inclusive and quality education was needed so that children with disabilities could achieve their rights.  Some speakers pointed to the challenge posed by the fact that the vast majority of children with disabilities did not receive adequate support to access education.  Finally, some speakers emphasized that the protection of human rights, based on the principles of inclusion and non-discrimination, was more important than ever as the global community had made the promise to work towards sustainable development without leaving anyone behind. 

Speaking during the discussion were the European Union, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Italy, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Qatar, Luxembourg, Oman, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Egypt, Maldives, Bahamas, Greece, China, Fiji, and Trinidad and Tobago. 

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: National Human Rights Council of Morocco, Child Rights Connect (in a joint statement with Save the Children International, International Catholic Child Bureau, and International Movement ATD Fourth World) , International Catholic Child Bureau, Action Canada for Population Development, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, and Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee.

The first part of the day-long annual meeting was held this morning and a summary can be found here .

The Council will reconvene on Tuesday, 5 March at 9 a.m., when it will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and with the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Address by the Prime Minister of Somalia

HASSAN ALI KHAYRE, Prime Minister of Somalia, appreciated the support received from Member States during the seventy-third session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, which had led to Somalia being elected a member of the Human Rights Council for the period 2019-2021.  The election was an encouragement and support by the global human rights community towards the institutionalization of the promotion and protection of human rights in Somalia and the rest of the world.  Somalia continued to engage in the structured peace and State-building process as a strategy to return the country to a functional post-conflict State.  Somalia had made meaningful progress in restoring peace, strengthening the rule of law, and reforming the justice and security sectors, and thus facilitating an enabling environment for the promotion and protection of human rights.  It had begun by dedicating a fully-fledged ministry to women and human rights issues.  The Government had also formulated a national gender policy to mainstream gender issues in the governance system and safeguard the rights of women.  In the sector of justice and security, the Government had embarked on a comprehensive plan to completely reconfigure, re-train, re-equip and integrate the armed forces, and to delineate their duties so that they conformed to international standards.  Whereas in the past, impunity had been shielded by cultural practices and unaccountable traditional leaders, in today’s Somalia that was no longer the case. 

Panel Discussion on including Children with Disabilities in Education Settings: Good Practices and Accountability

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

WALTER STEVENS, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations Office at Geneva and moderator of the panel, said that this session would be an opportunity to look into good examples on how to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of children with disabilities.  The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union stated that the European Union respected the rights of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence.  The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities required a shift from a charity and medical approach to a human rights based approach.  In order to implement the Convention, the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 had been adopted, focusing on eliminating barriers in eight main areas.  The best interest of the child had to prevail always.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, said that both the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibited discrimination.  Yet reports showed that children with disabilities were three to four times more likely to suffer from combined forms of violence, abandonment and mistreatment.  In the twenty-first century, children with disabilities continued to suffer so they had to move from diagnosis to action.  That was why the Special Representative had been preparing a campaign for the good treatment of girls, boys and adolescents with disabilities from around the world, together with the United Nations Children’s Fund.  Ms. Soledad Cisternas read out the 10 principles from the campaign for the good treatment of girls, boys and adolescents with disabilities from around the world: 1. I exist as I am. I am a person just like you; 2. I like that you are kind to me. Love me. And play with me. 3. I like that you take care of me, protect me and teach me how to protect myself. 4. I want you to accept me as I am, help me develop my abilities and talents and give me a good quality education; 5. I like that you listen to me, explain things to me and consider my opinion; 6. I like that you believe in me and you help me grow; 7. I like that you understand me, support me and reassure me when I am upset, angry and frustrated; 8. I like it that you include me; 9. I want you to respect me and protect me from all forms of violence, everywhere and all the time and 10. It matters to me that you believe me.

Ms. Soledad Cisternas said those principles were launched in regional campaigns in the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America regions and now they would be launched in the Middle East, so that States could claim ownership.  Those simple words should reach teachers, social workers and all that were working with children.  Each principle was followed with an image, helping to form peoples’ awareness on how they should work with children with disabilities.  Special thanks was extended to the United Nations Children’s Fund that had made a video on these principles.

The Council then watched a video produced by the United Nations Children’s Fund on the 10 principles.  Ms. Soledad Cisternas called on States to disseminate the materials.  As she pointed out, they had the diagnosis and now they had materials that could help them pave the way towards a solution.

AFSHAN KHAN, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia of the United Nations Children’s Fund, emphasized that the empowerment of children with disabilities started by ensuring that all children with disabilities had access to learning and education from an early age.  Quality inclusive education was about appreciating learners’ diversity, valuing their well-being, respecting their inherent dignity and autonomy, and acknowledging the requirements of individuals and their ability to effectively participate, be included in and contribute to society.  Globally, it was noted that about half of children with disabilities did not go to school, and among the half that did go to school, another half were not receiving quality education.  Girls with disabilities, children with psychosocial disabilities, and those living in conflict settings were noted as particularly affected.  Data collection on children with disabilities needed to be improved as part of administrative systems through household surveys.  Ms. Khan also called on States to close the gap between policy and implementation, noting that national inclusive education strategies had to be accompanied with costed operational plans.  States were also encouraged to reform curricula, teacher education and learning assessments, as well as improve accessibility of schools and learning materials for children with disabilities.  Ms. Khan also noted the importance of mobilizing governments, service providers, organizations of persons with disabilities, and the private sector to promote affordability and availability of assistive technology. 

BUSHRA ZULFIQAR, Education Director, Save the Children Bangladesh, stated that 30 years after the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, there was limited progress in reducing the number of out of school children, who still numbered 263 million worldwide.  Children with disabilities were more likely to be out of school or to leave before completing primary and secondary school than their typically developing peers.  Children with disabilities faced attitudinal barriers and stigma, which were at the root of the discrimination that they faced.  Children with disabilities and civil society were key actors in holding governments to account on their obligations on inclusive education.  Ms. Zulfiqar gave the example of a successful social accountability programme implemented by Save the Children in Bangladesh, and replicated in 13 other countries around the world.  She also gave examples of an index for inclusion implemented in Bosnia, and innovative assessment tools used in Sri Lanka to adjust teaching methods for children with disabilities, to make them more effective.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child provided opportunities for children with disabilities to be heard.  Based on Save the Children’s work with children with disabilities, she set out six recommendations for Member States to consider, including reviewing development strategies and funding allocations that would prioritize the needs of children with disabilities, and ensuring that education interventions relating to humanitarian responses specifically targeted children with disabilities. 

Discussion

European Union reminded that children with disabilities were 10 times less likely to attend school, and were more likely to drop out early.  It was fundamental to train teachers, exchange best practices and experiences, and to develop awareness raising campaigns to address negative attitudes towards disability.  Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, recalled that in 2018 the African Union had adopted the Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which focused on promoting and upholding the rights of 84 million persons, including children, living with disabilities in Africa.  Italy informed that in the 1970s, it had adopted an inclusive education model in order to integrate and include students with disabilities in the education system.  What was the most urgent need to cope with in terms of access to inclusive and quality education?

Morocco stressed that inclusive and quality education was needed so that children with disabilities could achieve their rights.  The Government had established a public support fund to ensure the social inclusion of children with disabilities.  Saudi Arabia underlined the importance of paying due attention to the rights of children, especially their right to education.  It was working to improve health services for children with disabilities.  Russian Federation agreed that developing education on the basis of equal opportunities was integral to expanding rights and opportunities for children with disabilities.  The Russian Federation used specialized pedagogical approaches, including inclusive education, to that end. 

Ecuador was pleased that this was an opportunity to raise awareness on challenges which States were facing when it came to improving the rights of children with disabilities.  Thousands of students with disabilities had joined the national mainstream education system in Ecuador.  Venezuela said that both the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child required education to be provided to all children.  Adequate support had to be provided so that children with disabilities could join education and training and play a full role in society.  Mexico asked panellists about their experiences of best practices in removing the coexistence of two parallel education systems, the mainstream education system and the special education system for students with disabilities.  Mexico believed that all children with disabilities should be able to join mainstream education. 

Qatar had taken necessary measures to ensure that children with disabilities had access to quality education and had adopted a comprehensive policy for the education system.  There were specialized centres assisting students with disabilities in the education process, such as the Assistive Technology Centre, which promoted the use of technology for quality education.  Luxembourg said that schools had to be schools for everyone, offering a chance for every child.  The final decision of where children would be allocated lay with their parents, and the percentage of pupils in specialized schools was less than one per cent, reflecting the high level of inclusion in Luxembourg.  Oman was akin on realizing the rights of every child and working on inclusive education.  The National Children Action Plan 2016-2025 dealt with the most vulnerable groups, in order to assist marginalized groups, but more international cooperation was needed to exchange good practices.

National Human Rights Council of Morocco stated that according to a national investigation into disability in 2014, 6.7 per cent of persons with disabilities had been under the age of 15.  This posed problems in terms of access to education.  They reiterated the challenge posed by the fact that the vast majority of children with disabilities did not receive adequate support to access education.

Child Right Connect, in a joint statement with Save the Children International, International Catholic Child Bureau, and International Movement ATD Fourth World, urged for the voice of children with disabilities to be heard, and that additional obstacles were not imposed to their development and empowerment.  There was a need to systematically respond to the many obstacles and ensure that all children with disabilities obtained adequate information, and the training tools necessary for parents working with children with disabilities, amongst others.  International Catholic Child Bureau was of the view that empowering children with disabilities was a prerequisite for an effective, quality inclusive education.  To achieve this goal, States were called on to empower children to participate in inclusive education tools and methods and to ensure that inclusive education was developed in an appropriate way.

Republic of Moldova said the protection of human rights based on the principles of inclusion and non-discrimination was more important than ever since the global community made the promise to work towards sustainable development without leaving anyone behind.  Yet children with disabilities risked being underrepresented in national and global discourse.  Monaco said that its recently adopted legal framework improved significantly inclusive education.  In 2017, Monaco had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Azerbaijan recognized inclusive education as a central element for the development of an inclusive and fair society.  It ensured that all children were able to be part of their community and provided better opportunities for learning.  United Arab Emirates was supportive of the principle that every child had a right to education, including those with disabilities.  There were specially designed programmes for children with disabilities, including for their parents.  South Africa said that States had to work together to develop strategies to address prejudice, ignorance and neglect that children with disabilities often faced across society.  A whole of society approach was the only way forward for empowering children with disabilities.

Egypt stated that the constitution of Egypt guaranteed the right of education of children with disabilities of all ages.  Furthermore, ministerial decisions had been taken in addition to the constitutional commitments, and these included specific standards for examinations, providing specific training as needed, and targeted education for all those with disabilities.  Maldives reiterated that the constitution of Maldives protected the rights of children with disabilities, and schools were inclusive for all.  Equal opportunities for children with disabilities should be provided within the mainstream school system, to as great an extent as possible, to avoid marginalization.  Bahamas stated that it had established a commission to ensure the rights of children in more remote islands, and to ensure stigma and discrimination within school settings was eliminated.  Efforts had also been made to establish a special education system for children with disabilities.  Greece stated that measures had been taken to promote the integration of children with disabilities into the school system.  In 2017, a law was passed providing for the monitoring and evaluation of a database to assess the provision of assistance for children with disabilities.  Additionally, a general framework had been recently established to allow persons with disabilities to fully participate in everyday life.

China attached great importance to the protection of children with disabilities.  Their rehabilitation was part of the national social development plan, with more than 7,000 rehabilitation centres, and with a focus on quality inclusive education services.  Fiji had passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, with an entire segment specifically setting out the Government’s obligation to progressively resolve discrimination in education against persons with disabilities.  Fiji looked to civil society champions to continue the work for inclusive education.  Trinidad and Tobago said it had worked to provide children with disabilities with assistive devices and adapted curricula in schools, as well as to equip educators to meet the diverse learning needs of students with disabilities. 

Action Canada for Population and Development, in a joint statement, noted that the Council should lead by example and make all its sessions accessible.  Comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education was necessary for all individuals, including persons with disabilities, to make informed decisions about their sexuality, reproduction and gender, free from violence, discrimination or coercion.  Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development supported the vision of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to ensure equal access for children with disabilities to regular schools, and called on all States to involve children with disabilities and their representatives in adopting relevant strategies.  Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee noted that it was the duty of all the nations that had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to abide by their commitments.  The organization noted that States like India did not honour those commitments.

Concluding Remarks

WALTER STEVENS, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations Office at Geneva and moderator of the panel, stressed that there were many commonalities in the approach and there was an understanding that something had been done, but there was still a long way to go.

BUSHRA ZULFIQAR, Education Director, Save the Children Bangladesh, said that this had been a very rich discussion on making education systems inclusive.  Disability was the key driver keeping children out of school.  However, that was only the beginning because the question was once the child joined the system, could she or he acquire everything the system could offer.  The answer was often no as there were still barriers.  So this issue had to be addressed systematically and schools had to provide a sense of belonging.  There were many countries across the world where Government capacities were built to provide inclusive education.  Learning and sharing of best practices had to be ongoing.  Very often in the past, the discussion on inclusive education had usually focused on infrastructure.  What was lacking was the humane dimension, the emotional part, including the stereotypes.  This was something that had to be worked on at the policy level in order to empower children.

AFSHAN KHAN, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia of the United Nations Children’s Fund, noted that, with respect to multi-stakeholder models, they were needed at all levels.  The importance of training teachers and investing in capacities in all schools so they could accommodate children with disabilities was noted as particularly important.  Ms. Khan also encouraged the redistribution of resources from special schools to regular schools so that they could further accommodate children with disabilities.  Assisted technology could also give a chance for people with disabilities to overcome barriers and demonstrate what they could do, rather than what they could not.  It was noted that the United Nations Children’s Fund would be holding a special event on assistive technology for inclusive education, and how to use this technology from the start to leapfrog some of the emotional barriers put in place and in doing so, better ensure the participation of children with disabilities.  Ms. Khan noted that a sea change was necessary in terms of social attitudes towards disability.  She concluded by highlighting the special needs of children in conflict situations.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, said she and many others had been working in the area of disabilities for many years, so they were very pleased to see that the glass was now half full.  All States speaking today referred to their attempts to align public policy with legislation.  That was progress worth celebrating.  It was important to know that if teachers and the community as a whole were not aware, then they would not achieve inclusion.  However, she was optimistic that they would achieve inclusion.  Awareness raising campaigns were of vital importance.   Additionally, training was needed for teachers, the police, judges and community members as a whole.  Everybody must work together on this.  Monitoring needed to start at a grass roots level, by the general public.  It was important to move from diagnosis to tangible action to remedy the situation of children with disabilities.  It was very important to listen to children with disabilities and hear what their plans were.  They must also ensure that there were complaint mechanisms in place that children with disabilities could access. 

WALTER STEVENS, Permanent Representative of the European Union to the United Nations Office at Geneva and discussion moderator, thanked everyone and noted that the discussion had provided a lot of food for thought.  As stated so many times, inclusion required everyone to think about how they organized themselves as a society.  It required investment in education, from physical infrastructure to curricula.  Reasonable accommodation was a right: learners with disabilities needed practical assistance from educators.  Speaking of discrimination and stigma, Mr. Stevens stressed that it was necessary to repeal discriminatory laws, customs and practices.  The exclusion of children with disabilities from mainstream education should be prohibited.  Legislation, policies and strategies needed to be coordinated in order to guide all relevant duty bearers on what was important.  Finally, inclusive education could not be realized by a single ministry alone; the entire Government needed to take part in that endeavour.  Mr. Stevens also noted that there should be monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure the implementation of policies, as well as complaint mechanisms.  Non-governmental organizations needed to be involved not only in the collection of data, but also in the entire decision-making process.  It was time to move from laws and regulations to implementation, Mr. Stevens concluded. 

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