New basis for the rehabilitation of children

In most societies, children are one of the most vulnerable groups. During a war they are even more vulnerable since their basic needs, such as food, shelter, security and love are threatened. However, in recent years two documents have been published that might help children, in a post-war situation. The first one is the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is signed by almost all Member States. In this declaration all the basic needs, listed above are expressed. Most articles go into details that should be well known by both children and adults according to article number 42. However, I will highlight a few articles of special interest for the field of rehabilitation and the post-war situation. In article 10 it is stated that children and their parents have the right to leave any country to enter their own for purposes of reunion or the maintenance of the child-parent relationship. In article 20 the protection of a child without a family is set out. Special protection should also be granted to a refugee child according to article 22. It is the state's obligation to co-operate with competent organisations that provide such protection and assistance. The rights of children with disabilities are expressed in article 23. They have the right to special care, education and training to help them enjoy a full and decent life in dignity. They also have the right to achieve the greatest degree of self-reliance and social integration and rights to the highest standard of health and medical care attainable. No child should be deprived of access to effective health services. The right to education is expressed in article 28. It is the duty of the state to ensure that primary education is free and compulsory and to encourage different forms of secondary education accessible to every child. Concerning armed conflicts, Member States shall take all feasible measures to ensure that children under 15 years of age have no direct part in hostilities. This is expressed in article 38. No child below 15 shall be recruited into the armed forces. States shall also ensure protection and care of children who are affected by armed conflict as described in the relevant international laws. Finally, according to article 39, the state has an obligation to ensure that child victims of armed conflicts, torture, neglect, etc. receive appropriate treatment for their recovery and social reintegration. The second document of importance for children with disabilities is the Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. The UN adopted these rules in December 1993. They are general statements for all ages, but of course children's needs are included. These standard rules summarise the present thinking and aspirations in the field of disability. It is, to a large extent, the philosophy developed by disabled persons themselves and their organizations. As a result of the International Decade of Disabled Persons, the period 1983-1992, experts sought stronger leadership from the UN. They therefore proposed that a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities should be elaborated. This proposal was rejected twice by the General Assembly, but a new kind of instrument, The Standard Rules, was elaborated and adopted. The Standard Rules should, among other things, propose an effective machinery for monitoring the process by which the Member States of the UN seek to attain the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities. The Rules are based on five different UN Declarations such as those for Human Rights, those on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, those on Civil and Political Rights, those on the rights of Children and those against all forms of discrimination against Women. The Standard Rules point out four different issues: • pre-conditions for equal participation; • target areas for equal participation; • implementation measures; • monitoring mechanisms. I will present a few rules that are of special interest in this context. Rule 6 on education says that the Member States should recognise the principle of equal educational opportunities for children, youth and adults with disabilities, in integrated settings. The states should ensure that the education of persons with disabilities is an integral part of the educational system. The rule says further that special attention should be paid to very young children and pre-school children with disabilities. To arrange for persons with disabilities to go to main-stream schools, Member States should have a clearly stated policy, understood and accepted at school level and by the wider community. Rule 9 about family life and personal integrity says that persons with disabilities should be able to live with their families. Respite care and attendant care services should be made available to families that include a person with a disability. The states should remove all obstacles to persons who want to foster a child with a disability. The states shoutd also promote measures to change negative attitudes towards marriage, sexuality and parenthood, especially of girls and women with disabilities, which still prevail in society. Rule 10 talks about culture and how states should ensure that persons with disabilities will be able to utilise their creative, artistic and intellectual potential. Children and adolescents with disabilities should have access to theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries, etc.
Rule 11 talks about recreation and sports, which should be accessible for all young people with disabilities by all means. This is specially valuable as sport for children and youth with a disability is one of the most powerful means to achieve successful development.
The implementation measures talk about information and research, policy-making and legislation. The latter is probably of vital importance to change the current trend and attitudes. In Rule 18 the need for organisations of persons with disabilities is stated, and their importance in developing and changing attitudes in the society. These organisations could also be for parents of children with disabilities. For instance the training of professional personnel should be organised in consultation with these organisations according to rule 19. People with disabilities should also be involved as teachers and instructors. These two basic documents on Children's Rights and Standard Rules for persons with disabilities could form a new platform for habilitation or rehabilitation of children in a post-war situation. Concerning the Standard Rules, there is also a special rapporteur identified by the United Nations. His secretariat is willing to help with implementing the rules in any Member State, and has arranged one seminar in Croatia. The target group was at ministerial level, professionals in the field of rehabilitation and people with disabilities themselves.
The Standard Rules are also an excellent basis for personnel in the field of rehabilitation. They now have the opportunity to point out to the authorities what is expected from the international community of persons with disabilities and what in their own state most probably has signed or should sign in the nearest future.
Category: Case report
Volume: Vol. 41, No 3,4 july - december 1997
Authors: B. M. Lagerkvist
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