GENEVA — Human rights advocates are calling for an end to the discrimination that denies children with disabilities the same right to an equal education and other opportunities available to other children in society. The U.N. Human Rights Council is holding a special session in Geneva on the empowerment of children with disabilities.
In keeping with the theme of the day, the U.N. has made the Council chamber wheelchair-accessible, has hired a sign interpreter for the hearing impaired, and has embossed some oral statements in Braille.
With these accommodations to children with disabilities, the U.N. is sending a message that it practices what it preaches. It is saying children with disabilities will be able to lead a full and fulfilling life on a par with other children if certain adaptations are made to their needs.
However, the United Nations reports the sad reality is that 93 million children with disabilities around the world are likely to have their rights violated from the moment they are born. It says millions of these children are torn from their families and placed in institutions where they are at risk of violence, abuse and neglect.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, is a medical doctor and a pediatrician. In her practice, she says she quickly learned the voices of disabled children too often go unheard.
“While preparing for today, I was remembering when I just started to be a pediatrician how people will leave the situation of children with disabilities. It was much more complicated. People denied, people hide those children. They will put them sort of in boxes so they will not really be able to develop. They will speak — even doctors in front of the children — like either they did not hear or that they did not exist.”
Experts debating the issue agree children with disabilities must be provided with an education on an equal basis with all children. They consider this a crucial step toward their empowerment and the realization of other key rights.
They say the empowerment of children with disabilities also depends upon the implementation of laws, policies and measures to tackle harmful social norms and protect them from discrimination, stigma and abuse.
High Commissioner Bachelet says children with disabilities are among the most likely to be left behind and the least likely to be heard. She says they have the right to raise their voices and to be heard in decisions affecting their lives.