MOSCOW, 27 September 2011 – Some 1.1 million children with disabilities in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are hidden away at home or in institutions. They are likely to be out of school and among those most vulnerable to neglect, abuse and exploitation, UNICEF said at a major conference which opened today.
UNICEF Senior Advisor of Children with Disabilities, Rosangela Berman-Bieler, urged governments to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and support policies for inclusive education. Across the region, 18 countries have signed the Convention and 12 have ratified it – showing that many countries here are leading the way in addressing the issue of children with disabilities compared to other regions while acknowledging that much more needs to be done.
Russia, the host of the conference, signed the Convention in 2008. Ongoing dialogue in 26 regions of the Russian Federation is focusing on how to better include children in mainstream schools and how to strengthen educators in addressing all children’s needs.
Organized by UNICEF with the support of the Moscow City Government, the conference on 27-29 September convenes experts and government officials from 20 countries. At the centre of discussions are the sharing of good practices: appropriate legal framework, suitable policies, and financing. Children with and without disabilities will also voice their opinions, interview key speakers and blog about the conference.
“As stated in the Convention, children with disabilities should access an inclusive, quality and free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live. It is a responsibility of all of us to ensure that this right is fulfilled,” said UNICEF’s Berman-Bieler in Moscow.
Boys and girls with disabilities are among the world’s most excluded and disadvantaged children and are at the centre of UNICEF’s equity approach.
“We also believe that a sustained effort should be made to reduce prejudice, stigma and discrimination against children with disabilities. To address societal perceptions and change attitudes towards them advocacy, social mobilization and communication for behaviour and social change interventions are necessary,” she added.
“For too many years, people with disability have been cast as by-standers or objects of pity and charity. By signing the Convention, Russia has joined the increasing number of countries who believe that keeping people with disability on the margins of their societies, denying them opportunity to participate socially and economically is simply wrong. But it is easier said than done,” said UNICEF Country Representative for the Russian Federation, Bertrand Bainvel.
“Today, by focusing on making education inclusive of children with disability, discussing common challenges and sharing innovations and success, UNICEF and its partners in this region and in Western Europe make it clear that regardless of the level of a country’s resources, making education inclusive to children with disability is not only possible, but it is clearly the way to go,” he said.
A WHO benchmark places the number of children who have disabilities at 2.5 per cent of the population or 2.6 million children in the 22 countries and entities that make up the region. However, national statistics record that figure as only 1.5 million, most of whom are likely to be out of school. This figure seriously underestimates the scope of the problem and suggests another 1.1 million children are unaccounted for. They remain invisible; most likely hidden away at home or joining more than 600,000 people currently placed in institutions, which is a common policy approach in many countries here.
Research shows that long-term placement in institutions damages children’s health and dev. When children with disabilities are not hidden away in institutions but live in their homes and are educated in mainstream schools, they are often placed in segregated classes. They are either taught a remedial curriculum or not taught at all. They are not offered the support some may need to be able to thrive with their classmates.
Research also shows that inclusive education can lead to better learning outcomes for all children, not just children with disabilities. Inclusive education promotes tolerance and enables social cohesion as it fosters a cohesive social culture and promotes equal participation in society. Inclusive education is more cost effective than separated schooling. And finally, it provides for inclusive labor markets, which are instrumental for a more efficient social economy.
Leaders were urged to take government-wide measures to end the placement of all children in institutions, prioritizing those younger than three years of age. They were also urged to put in place education policies and strategies to promote the right to access and full participation in quality education, and the respect for rights within learning environments. Recommendations included enforcing the right to non-discrimination by rectifying policies and practices that allow stigmatization, exclusion and segregation; removing barriers to system-wide inclusive education; and engaging in comprehensive reforms at all levels of educational systems and governance.
For more information, please contact:
Viacheslav Tikhomirov, UNICEF Russia Federation,
Tel + 7 985 412 921 65 72,
Lely Djuhari, UNICEF CEECIS Regional office,
Tel +41 792 044482,
Shimali Senanayake, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel + 1 917 265 4516,