European conference on 'Children's rights for all'

There are around one million children with intellectual disabilities in the European Union. These children often find themselves subject to discrimination and exclusion from society and are frequently denied the right to good quality education, healthcare, recreation and services.

The European Conference on ‘Children’s rights for all’ took place on 20-21 October in Brussels where issues surrounding the rights of children with intellectual disabilities were discussed. The conference also saw the launch of a series of National Reports as well as a European-level report assessing the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) from the perspective of children with intellectual disabilities. Speakers from the conference highlighted a number if interesting issues.

Jan Jarab, the Regional Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, argued that “modern societies should take effective steps to ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights for all people”. He also highlighted that in the past few years he has seen a positive move from a more medical-centred perspective to individual centred approach to disability care.

Camille Latimier from Inclusion Europe noted that although the CRC has not yet been ratified by the EU, the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) – which has been ratified by the Union – will allow for better implementation of the rights of children with disabilities. She also highlighted that in many areas of Europe there is still a lack of community-based care services, which means that many children remain in residential institutions.

Sonia Uhlman, who works for the Spanish Down Syndrome Foundation and is a national expert on Spain for the UNCRC, talked about inclusive education in her country. In Spain, teachers are required by law to adapt a special curriculum for children with special educational needs, i.e. learning difficulties, physical disabilities and behavioural problems. However, she highlighted that children from vulnerable groups (e.g. Roma minority) and children from non-European (non-Spanish-speaking) families also need to be supported.

Maria Amor Estebanez from the Fundamental Rights Agency talked about the development on adherence to children’s rights, including core indicators, such as family environment, protection from exploitation, education and participation and child income poverty.

Jean Claude Legrand from UNICEF presented data collected from Eastern Europe, which shows that up to 1.3 million children are in formal care, with 600,000 in institutions and more than a third of disabled children are in residential care. He emphasised the need not to put children under the age of 3 in institutions (as per UNICEF guidelines) and over time to develop a mechanism to hold governments accountable for achieving this.

Maria Herczog, who is a Member of the UNCRC committee, argued that all children need to be considered in child right policies rather than differentiating between groups of children. She also highlighted the need to monitoring the implementation of national child-care legislation in order to determine whether it is working well on a practical level.