Continuing with keeping Midnight In Chicago readers in the know about my efforts — as well as MIC‘s efforts – concerning the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I am including extracts and information in this blog article from a missive I received from the Child Rights Officer of UNICEF Belgium.
Before I do that, however, I feel it is important to note that oftentimes people prejudice themselves by thinking that there is less of a need for providing assistance to children with disabilities in so-called “developed” countries as there is for assisting children in so-called “undeveloped” countries.
In fact, what I have learned through my various correspondences is that all countries care about their young citizens very much, and that all countries seem to feel that as long as there is one child in need, there is a need that must be met.
Statistics Belgium, in the 2009 publication “Belgium and the European Union“ reports on page 55 that according to 2008 figures, 14.7% of the population live at what is considered to be below the poverty threshold. It is revealed on page 109 that in 2008, Belgium had a population of 10,666,866. That would mean roughly 1,568,029 people in Belgium face special challenges everyday, to say nothing of all the people in Belgium who may be living with disabilities.
My UNICEF contact in Belgium gave me access to a recently published report entitled “What do you think?” Its publication was supported by the Belgian Ministry of Justice and the French Community. My contact says:
The report is a summary of how children and young persons in Belgium experience the observance of their rights, and of the recommendations they make. It is neither an appraisal of existing government or NGO initiatives, nor a review of the Belgian government’s report or the alternative reports by NGOs and children’s rights ombudsmen.
UNICEF Belgium’s What do you think? participation project addresses itself to children and young people under 18 in Belgium and aims at improving the right to freedom of speech and participation of children and young people at all levels. What do you think? particularly wants to let the children’s voice be heard at the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.
What you’ll find enclosed [in the What Do You Think document] is the second report by the Belgian children and young people to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Chapter II, 3 (p.44 to 47) which is chiefly based on information from the report “We are above all young people.” This full report (in French/Dutch) contains the ideas, wishes and propositions of more than 300 young people between 12 and 18 having one or several sensorial, physical or mental disabilities. It is the result of two years of queries as part of the What do you think? project. It made use of several methodologies (meetings, debates, questionnaires, drawings, pictures,Ö). In this way we got a better view of how children and young people with a disability experience daily life and of the respect of their rights in Belgium.
Pertinent to this blog entry are what children with disabilities in Belgium think about what their needs are and how they are being met.
Let me just note that I very much regret that I cannot reproduce the entirety of the relevant pages here. Everything the report says is so well-stated that I could not possibly reproduce its essence in a shortened form with such eloquence and conveyance of meaning. Fortunately, you can read the document for yourself. It is downloadable from this LINK.
I have reproduced some of their comments here, and those only in part. So, what did they have to say on the subject?
We are especially faced with obstacles when we want to affirm our identity as a ‘young person,’ and when we indicate that we want to participate in activities of our age. Physical obstruction (access to playgrounds, pubs and clubs) and social obstruction, because other young people do not always want to play or be with us.
These children say they would like to have:
• Free school and study choices
• The end of the discrepancy between ‘specialized’ and ‘normal’ education.
• Choices being made based on fields of interest rather than on offer.
• An easy access to adapted material and the necessary support.
• Transferral possibilities to other education forms or to higher education.
• A good training in diversity for teachers
• Schools with a ‘good atmosphere’
Further comments include some of the following:
There has to be more attention for disabilities in the media; social barriers have to be removed; diversity and integration have to be encouraged.
We also wish to have equal rights at work: finding a balance between positive discrimination and exclusion; receiving more information about the possibilities for people and companies.
Teachers, doctors, etc. should be trained better to be able to diagnose disabilities. They also should be made aware of the problems linked to a disability.
There is a whole series of obstacles preventing us from participating in community life. These obstacles are not really attributed to our disability, but to bad adjustments of public spaces.
It is not always easy for us to participate in decisions about ourselves. Too often, others still decide for us without asking for our opinion; whether it is in our family, at school, during our hobbies, in healthcare, in town councils or in politics. It is not always out of bad intentions; often people underestimate us or want to protect us too much. We really have to be able to find our place in society. We would otherwise stay excluded and depend on others forever.
In the report, the problems children with disabilities in Belgium have identified are similar to those faced by children all over the world.
By no means should we take their statements to be a criticism of Belgium or the Belgian government which ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on July 2, 2009.
That the children feel they can represent their feelings so freely in a publication which is downloadable by people the world over shows how much Belgium values the right of its children to have free speech. And as we can see on page 2 of this document, which is copyrighted to UNICEF Belgium, the document was, as I said earlier, supported by the Belgian Ministry of Justice and the French Community.
What we need to remember is that no matter where a person with disabilities lives, that person may have needs, and as long as we have governments like Belgium’s, and international organizations like UNICEF, which make excellent strides to see that those needs are met, there is hope for the future.
My personal thanks go out to the Child Rights Officer, the Director of Communication and Programs, and to C.S. at UNICEF Belgium for providing me with the information used in this article. All of you are a credit to your organization.
Thomas D. Taylor
MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO