Experts, governments discuss reforms to ensure inclusion of children with disabilities
BAKU, 20 September 2011 – During an international conference which opened here today, experts urged governments and leaders to focus on early detection, provide inclusive education, health care and social services for millions of children with disabilities so they can develop to their full potential. They further shared experience of efforts to reduce stigma against children with disabilities and ensure their physical and social inclusion in society.
The one-day conference was held at Buta Palace in Baku and attended by 200 participants from 12 countries. It was organized by the Government of Azerbaijan, UNICEF and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.
The four world-class musicians performed with the Azerbaijan National Symphonic Orchestra in the evening after the conference. They will also meet and play music on Wednesday alongside children with disabilities living in a boarding school for students with visual impairment, and visit an institution for children with psycho-neurological disabilities. On Thursday they will see a day care where children receive education and additional support while remaining with their families and interacting with the wider community – a model which UNICEF supports. This is the Philharmoniker`s first field visit for the UN body for children.
Both the conference and campaign underscore the need for policy reforms and a change in societal attitude in much of the region where many families still tend to hide children with disabilities because of the stigma in society. Moreover, surveys show that parents of children without disabilities do not want their children to share classes with children who do have disabilities, particularly those who have mental disabilities.
“Children with disabilities and in need of special care live by our side. Incredible as it may seem, but in the most of the cases it is them who understand best what it means not to be accepted by society. International institutions, national governments, financial institutions, people with goodwill, people who are not indifferent to the fate of children should pool their efforts”, said Mehriban Aliyev, the first lady of Azerbaijan and president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Elchin Efendiyev, the deputy Prime Minister, also attended the conference.
Besides changing attitudes, more needs to be done on the policy making front. “Azerbaijan was one of the first countries in the region to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. UNICEF is encouraged to see the work now starting in Azerbaijan so all children can grow up without discrimination, regardless of whether or not they have disabilities, and can have equal opportunities throughout their lives.” said Mark Hereward, UNICEF Representative in Azerbaijan.
In the past, the overwhelming policy approach in the region has been to place children with disabilities in institutions. However, five decades of research show that children in institutions will not develop in the same way as children living in families. Quality early child development requires frequent one-to-one interactions with a care-giver. That is why across the region, efforts are now underway to change the policies and service provision to allow children to stay at home. Yet so far, few mainstream schools in the region offer additional support such as therapy for these children, an important element of inclusive education. In addition, children with disability must be welcomed into school by their fellow-students and their teachers in order to benefit from educational opportunities.
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