Press releasesChildren with Disabilities, Urgent policy action or lose another generation in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, says UNICEF
Of the estimated 5.1 million children with disabilities in the region, approximately 3.6 million are not counted in social registers, a basic child right, and as a consequence are lost and excluded from their own societies. Those who are registered are often exiled to state run residential institutions or do not go to school, another fundamental child right.
Addressing this requires urgent and inter-sectoral policy responses, says Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS).
She was commenting on the release of UNICEF’s flagship publication, The State of the World`s Children 2013, which focuses on children with disabilities. The Report finds that the key to children with disabilities surviving and thriving is for them to have access to adequate services from the earliest years, grow up in caring families and to study in their local schools.
“Children with disabilities are the most vulnerable in society. While this region has developed good global practices and has undertaken significant child welfare reforms, we now need to accelerate the process of inclusion of children with disability in society,” Ms Poirier told a meeting in Geneva between UNICEF and the permanent mission representatives from countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“We need to address the failure to register children with disabilities. They need to come into the child welfare and social protection systems, be recognised and not swept under the carpet,” says Marie-Pierre Poirier.
The State of the World`s Children report outlines ways for governments, the private sector, international donors and agencies, parliamentarians and other stakeholders to advance this agenda through strong partnerships. It renews the call for all governments to sign, ratify and effectively implement the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
As of February 2013, 128 countries in the world have signed it as well as the European Union. In this region, 15 countries have ratified it. Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have signed but not ratified while Belarus and Tajikistan are not signatories.
Besides ratification of the CRPD, UNICEF recommends to:
- Dismantle all barriers to inclusion. This requires a change of perception: recognising that children with disabilities` active presence and voice will not only help them but improve society as a whole as it gives everyone greater appreciation of diversity and tolerance. Montenegro’s ‘It’s About Ability’ campaign was launched in September 2010 showing children with disabilities as active members of society. The campaign contributed to an 18 per cent increase in the number of people who consider children with disabilities as equal members of society.
- Generate reliable and comparable data needed to guide planning and resource allocation that realizes the rights of and the inclusion of all children. Society cannot be equitable unless all children are included and children with disabilities accounted for and rendered visible and active members of their own communities. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia efforts are underway to gather and analyze existing data that can lead to more informed decisions regarding the need for services for all children, including children with disabilities. Findings that revealed unequal access to education have spurred plans to improve school participation.
- End the institutionalization of children with disabilities with a moratorium on new admissions. UNICEF and governments are supporting families to prevent separation and end placement of children under three in large-scale institutions. Of the 600,000 children in institutions in the region, many have disabilities. The report highlighted Serbia`s progress, which began wholesale childcare reforms in 2001. A new Social Welfare law was adopted in which de-institutionalization and fostering were given priority. Serbia also has renewed its commitment to getting all children with disabilities out of the institutions as studies show that when other children have left, children with disabilities often get left behind. In 2012 Belarus increased the value of the economic support provided to families of children with disabilities to 100 per cent of the national minimum income. In Bulgaria last year, 20 governments in the region articulated strong political commitment towards reducing the number of infants being abandoned at birth; reducing the number of children below three years old in institutional care and increasing the number of children with disabilities to remain within their families.
- Ensure that children with disabilities are identified as soon as possible and receive essential services so that that they are able to reach their full potential. Evidence confirms that the youngest age group (0-3 years) of children with disabilities lack access to specialist care and services in many countries of the region. Turkey has set up Developmental Paediatric Units in tertiary level health facilities that provide family-friendly services. Eight other countries in the region are now starting to strengthen the role of primary health care and home visiting systems that will allow for the identification of young children early and support them and their families in the care they need to thrive.
- Guarantee the right for all children to go to their local schools so that children, with and without disabilities, attend the same classes with additional, individually tailored support as needed. Huge nationwide awareness raising campaigns in Montenegro and strong engagement of civil society in promoting inclusion in Armenia have led to increased public demands for inclusive schools. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is currently rolling out, a national teacher training programme, fully in line with the globally recognized 'social model' of disability. Tools and techniques help teachers identify, assess, and develop individualized learning programmes. More schools are welcoming first grade children with disabilities in Serbia, thanks to an inclusive legal framework adopted in 2009
Situation in Armenia
According to UNICEF Armenia “It’s About Inclusion” Report released in 2012, there are 8,000 registered children with disabilities in Armenia or 1 per cent of the total child population, according to official statistics. However, UNICEF maintains that given the international expected benchmark disability rate of 2.5 per cent, there are likely to be around 12,000 children with disabilities whose disability is not certified for various reasons such as the unwillingness of the family to get certification or the current diagnosis-based criteria for disability certification.
Around 65% of children with disabilities are poor or live on 3 USD a day (general poverty line in Armenia is estimated at 97.1 USD per month per person), while 8 per cent live in extreme poverty or less than 2 USD a day (extreme poverty line in Armenia is estimated at 57.2 USD per month per person), according to the 2012 Social Snapshot and Poverty in Armenia Report published by the National Statistics Service of Armenia.
Children with disabilities in Armenia face multiple challenges in access to mainstream education. One out of 5 children with disabilities or 18% does not attend school. The percentage of children with disabilities living in rural areas and not attending school is even higher – in villages one out of 4 children with disabilities or 23% does not attend school. Moreover, 51% of parents of children with disabilities not attending school and living in rural areas and 36% of parents of children with disabilities not attending school and living in Yerevan believe that their children cannot study at school.
The risk for children with disabilities to be separated from family and placed in an institution such as orphanage or special boarding school is much higher than for other children. According to UNICEF Report “It’s About Inclusion”, one out of every 6 children with disabilities or 16% lives or studies in an orphanage or special boarding school. More, girls with disabilities are relatively more frequently taken to orphanages than boys and are relatively less frequently visited.
Children with disabilities are less likely to have friends and less likely to be involved in community activities and events. UNICEF Report demonstrates that 12% of children with disabilities do not have friends at all and 33% do not participate in any event organized in their communities.
There is a huge lack of services provided to children with disabilities and their families. Four out of 5 children with disabilities or 81% do not receive any social protections services apart from disability pensions.
Along with all the problems Armenia has made tangible progress in ensuring the rights of children with disabilities, especially in the area of education. Today 1700 children with disabilities are studying in close to 100 inclusive schools and this number will increase with the adoption of amendments to the Law on Education currently being discussed by the National Assembly of Armenia. There are also 4 day-care centres operating in Tavoush province of Armenia which provide specialised services to almost 600 children with disabilities and their families.