Delegates gather in New York to promote and protect the rights of children with disabilities
By Branwyn Lancourt
NEW YORK, USA, 20 June 2011 – A distinguished set of experts and advocates on the rights of children with disabilities convened at UN Headquarters last Friday to discuss promoting and protecting the rights of children with disabilities.
Strong decisions, real impact
The conversation called attention to the specific challenges facing such children and proposed ways of addressing them. Acting Head of the EU Delegation to the UN Pedro Serrano said the recent passing of UN General Assembly resolution 65/197 was an important step in advancing the rights of children with disabilities.
“I hope this resolution will help all member states to better understand the needs of children with disabilities and the policy options to address them, in order to make a real impact on the ground,” he said, as he affirmed the European Union’s commitment to progress.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides critical and strategic guidance for the fulfilment of the rights of all children with disabilities by recognizing that focus should be placed on their innate right to a life free of discrimination – particularly in the areas of child protection and education.
Speaking about the main barriers children with disabilities face, Vladimir Cuk, International Disability Alliance Social Development and Human Rights Officer, pressed for more awareness, adequate training and accessibility in community and mainstream services.
Mr. Cuk noted that the perception that children with disabilities needed to be lucky to be born into a community with adequate services and support was erroneous. "It doesn't have to be about luck," he stressed. "Removing barriers and increasing support and awareness as well as providing inclusive education, reduces the pressure on family and child."
Stigma associated with issues of disability has resulted in the marginalization of a significant percentage of the global population – there are an estimated 200 million children with disabilities worldwide.
Increased risk of abuse
Asserting the critical need to invest in awareness and information, Marta Santos Pais, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, emphasized that children with disabilities are at a heightened risk of abuse.
"When incidents of violence take place, children do not know where to go and whom to call to seek advice and support," she said. "For children with disabilities, these challenges are clearly bigger."
Corinna Csáky, Child Protection Adviser for Save the Children UK, followed up on the topic, addressing the subject of sexual violence against children with disabilities.
"Even in the most developed settings, children with disabilities are seven times more likely to be abused than non-disabled children," she said. “Shrouded in taboos and far from a political priority, very little research has been conducted on this issue.”
Ms. Csáky went on to share a new joint global study between Save the Children and Handicap International entitled ‘Out from the Shadows’, which aims to shed light on the under-researched issue of sexual violence against children with disabilities and make recommendations on how to tackle it.
Rights of children with disabilities will be the main theme of the annual Secretary-General’s Report on the Rights of the Child 2011 and is expected to be the main focus of this year’s General Assembly Resolution on the Rights of the Child.
Out of the shadows
UNICEF Director of Policy and Practice Richard Morgan reiterated the need for more diligent and comprehensive reporting for children with disabilities, whom he called “the most stigmatized and excluded of all the world’s children.”
“It’s because of their level of exclusion that we don’t have reliable data on the number of children with disabilities or where to find them,” he said. “Improving availability of data on children with disabilities must be a priority.”
Concluding the event, Lilián Silveira, UN Deputy Permanent Representative of Uruguay, expressed the hope that the panel discussion would help the participants and attendees to better understand their obligation and commitments regarding children with disabilities.