The following short brief offered by Unicef puts the issue of children with disabilities in Central and Eastern Europe under a spotlight by highlighting main issues, demographics as well as challenges preventing protection of the rights of the child. While it is true that all of the countries in the region have now signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and almost all have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), nevertheless a large marginalisation of children with disabilities persists in the region, often masked by generally improving national and regional statistics. In all countries, children with disabilities are the hardest to reach and often the most vulnerable.
In the region, children with disabilities are often deemed “uneducable” and a burden on their families, communities and society in general. It is not uncommon for children with disabilities to be left out of official birth registers, or for parents to be urged to place their new-borns with a developmental delay or disability under the care of state institutions. Children with disabilities and their families are thus often among the poorest in society, and young children with disabilities are among those who do not have access to early intervention services or early learning opportunities.
There could be as many as 5.1 million children with disabilities, of which 3.6 million are not counted in social registers in the region.
These children with disabilities represent up to 60% of all abandoned children, especially those in institutional care In some countries in the region.
- Treat every child, first and foremost, as a child and a holder of rights, regardless of their or their parents’ perceived disability status.
- Prioritise action that involves changing the social norms, cultural practices and public attitudes that are largely responsible for the violation of most rights of children with disabilities.
- Promote approaches to disability-mainstreaming work that emphasises children with disabilities’ worth and promotes a public image that focuses on the value of their abilities, inherent dignity and worth, and work to fight discrimination and build awareness of disability.
- Support the development of policies that actively lead towards dismantling barriers to inclusion, and coordinate services across various ministries to ensure life-long, all-inclusive services that ensure equal and inalienable rights for all children
- Engage in, and provide opportunities for discussions with governments and counterparts related to the ways in which national legislation, policy and practices are responsible for perpetuating a reductionist view of children with disabilities.
- Support the improvement of data-collection tools and methodologies to ensure that a rigorous and transparent accounting of ALL children is used in decision-making and to improve service provision; promote the alignment of each country’s definition of “disability” with the CRPD.
- Support families of children with disabilities and promote their transition from institutional care to community-based living and support.
- Highlight the benefit to all children - and for the long term social and democratic development of a country - of including children with disabilities on equal footing as all other children.