On the occasion of the European Day of Persons with Disabilities, on 7-8 December the European Commission and EDF co-organised a two-day conference in Brussels with around 200 participants from all over Europe. The conference focused on the current situation of children and young people with disabilities and their access to education as a key factor for their participation in society. Participants of the conference included young people with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, representatives of organisations of persons with disabilities, government representatives and academics.
Speaking at the opening of the conference, EDF President, Yannis Vardakastanis, talked about the institutionalisation of children and young people with disabilities in many European countries calling on the EU to not spend its funds on institutions but on community living: “In our countries, there are hundreds and hundreds of children that are separated from their families and face daily abuses and violence in segregating institutions.In particular children of ethnic minorities and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in institutions. There are even countries that forbid institutionalisation of children under a certain age, but allow exceptions for children with disabilities. The EU needs to support deinstitutionalisation in the Member States by suspending, withdrawing and recovering funds if the obligation to respect fundamental rights is breached. The EU funds should be used strictly for the development of support services for persons with disabilities in local communities and not for institutions.”
EDF President also called on the EU to adopt the long awaited equal treatment legislation that will protect people with disabilities, including children, against discrimination, as well as to ratify the Istanbul Convention to ensure that girls with disabilities are no longer victims of gender based violence in their homes.
The EU set a very good example by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and this year its work on the rights of people with disabilities was reviewed by the UN CRPD Committee. In its recommendations, the UN CRPD Committee called on the EU to mainstream the perspective and the needs of children with disabilities in the upcoming EU Agenda on the rights of the child.
Considering that next year it will be the 10th year anniversary of the adoption of the UN CRPD, Yannis Vardakastanis suggested to dedicate the next European Day of Persons with Disabilities to celebrate the UN CRPD 10th anniversary: “We can say that the Convention is a ten year old child with very good ideas on how the future should look like. A future in a world without barriers, without discrimination, where persons with disabilities can be protagonists of our own lives. Let’s continue working together towards this goal. It’s ambitious but is not impossible.”
Rosangela Berman Bieler from UNICEF presented some facts about institutionalisation of children with disabilities saying that children with disabilities at the early age are up to 17 times more likely to live in an institution than their peers without disabilities. “The risk of violence, neglect and abuse in institutions and orphanages is much higher than when living at home or in a community”, she said emphasising that Member States should support families and provide inclusive community-based services particularly in health, education and social protection”.
During the conference, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), presented its new report on violence against children with disabilities underlining the problem that occurs from the lack of data and research on this topic. “Children with disabilities are 4 times more likely to be abused than their peers without disabilities; children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities face even higher risk of violence. Member States should ban institutionalisation for children with disabilities and should focus on providing family support”, said Nevena Peneva from FRA.