The 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is both an important milestone and an opportunity to reaffirm the EU's commitments to ensuring the full implementation of the treaty worldwide, as well as to evaluate the progress made since its adoption. At the ongoing 40th Human Rights Council, the EU places special attention on children with disabilities who are in a particularly vulnerable situation.
On Monday, 5 March, Ambassador Walter Stevens, Head of the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva, moderated a Human Rights Council panel discussion on the rights of children with disabilities in education settings. Children with disabilities are often marginalized and face hurdles in obtaining quality education. Some of them experience abuse and neglect at home or their communities, making it harder for them to gain access schooling. Some schools deny students with disabilities admission, as they are not prepared to offer an appropriate environment for education, or fail to provide appropriate classroom accommodations to help them overcome barriers related to their disabilities. These barriers result in low attendance and high dropout rates for children with disabilities.
Highlighting the need for inclusive and accessible education systems, EU Ambassador Stevens said: "The best interests of the child should always prevail in determining the care and protection needs of children with disabilities." Inclusive education empowers all children: it provides them with competences, knowledge and skills to be independent and to make decisions about their lives; allows them to develop their personalities, talents and abilities; and provides them with means to fully participate in the society.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP) clearly express the obligation to guarantee quality education for all and the importance of providing the holistic support to develop each child’s potential. The CRC, as the most widely ratified human rights treaty, is strongly guiding the EU policy on the rights of the child internally and externally. The EU, as a regional organisation, is a party to the CRPD and has a legal obligation to implement it across all of its policies. In this light, education, including free compulsory primary education and accessible secondary education, must be provided to every child on the basis of equality of opportunity. These efforts shall be accompanied and complemented by actions ensuring access to vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning.
"For this vision to be enacted – there are few elements that need to be put in place: legal framework, appropriate policy, political will, capacity of the education system, committed and well-prepared human and financial resources as well as appropriate financial resources, infrastructure, quality services," EU Ambassador Stevens specified.
"All European Member States are committed to working towards ensuring more inclusive education systems," he stressed.
In order to further highlight the needs of children with disabilities, the EU – together with the UN's Latin American and Caribbean Group – spearheads a Human Rights Council resolution on the rights of the child. This year's resolution will place special focus on the importance of empowering children with disabilities, through measures such as inclusive education.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Council attendees had the opportunity to hear first-hand experiences of disability and children's rights activists speaking at a side event co-sponsored by the EU. The speakers highlighted the importance of recognizing the multiple protection issues faced by children with disabilities in particular.
The complexity of risk factors threatening children's rights was also a key focus of the EU's Human Rights Council side event that took place earlier this week on Monday. The event, titled "Convention on the Rights of the Child 30 Years on: placing children's rights at the heart of the policy agenda", aimed at highlighting the need for continuing our common efforts for children's rights. At the event, speakers shared best practices for protecting children all over the world from violence.
Worldwide, millions of children from all socio-economic backgrounds, across all ages, religions and cultures, suffer from or are at risk of violence. Children at particular risk include those in living in war and conflict areas as well as children in contact with the law, victims of trafficking, children who go missing, children with disabilities or belonging to minorities.
To protect children from all forms of violence, the EU works towards building strong child protection systems that address the wide spectrum on risk factors. This week, the EU also participated in an interactive dialogue with the Special Representatives of the UN Secretary General on violence against children and children and armed conflict. As education is central to preventing the use of children in conflict and to reintegration efforts, the EU aims to increase humanitarian funding for education in emergencies to 10% of the overall EU humanitarian aid budget as of this year, and to bring children caught up in humanitarian crises back into education within 3 months. Furthermore, in December last year, the President of the European Parliament appointed a new coordinator for children’s rights to ensure that the rights of the child were fully respected in European Union legislation and in other initiatives promoted by the Parliament.
The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019 calls on the EU to support partner countries' efforts to promote, protect and fulfil the rights of the child with a focus on strengthening child protection systems.