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Children with Disabilities
Urgent policy action or lose another generation in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, says UNICEF
GENEVA, 30 May 2013: Although significant reforms have been undertaken throughout Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia in support of children with disabilities and many positive changes are occurring, millions of children with disabilities are still left out, forgotten and invisible, UNICEF says.
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 family law was adopted and a fund was established to help develop community-based social services. Serbia also has renewed their 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.