Slovakia questioned at UN on institutions, education and rights of children with disabilities

Slovakia’s disability rights record was scrutinised by the UN’s disability expert committee this week. MDAC and Slovak NGOs sent information to the committee so that it could recommend to the Government to make progress on community-based services and make sure each child with disabilities gets an education.

Angelika Oláhová (right) and Roman Vrábel (front left) outside Palais Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland. © Vladislav Matej.

MDAC and Slovak human rights organisations have called for action on the high numbers of people with disabilities who continue to be institutionalised in Slovakia. The UN’s expert committee on disability rights asked a Slovak Government delegation to explain what it will do to prevent children with support needs such as 4-year-old MDAC client Lujza Tomasko from being separated from their families. In response, the Government claimed that they are committed to taking measures to prevent institutionalisation, suggesting that their initial focus will be removing children from institutions.

Steven Allen, MDAC Campaigns Director, said:

“In Geneva this week, the Slovak Government admitted that it has a system of almost a thousand institutions. These rob people with disabilities the authorship of their lives, separate people from their communities, and silence them for life. MDAC looks to the Government to urgently develop an inclusive national plan to evacuate these institutions and get people into the community with the supports they need to flourish.”

The dialogue was the first review of Slovakia’s progress since it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2010. At the session in Geneva, NGOs explained that almost 39,000 people are still segregated in institutions, and that the Government has been too slow in developing support services in the community.

Angelika Oláhová (pictured above) was placed in an institution at the age of three because she had an intellectual disability. She told Committee members that she stayed there for 35 years until she was provided supported housing together with 7 other clients.

“I was 38 years old when I left to go and live in the city to a supported housing residence. I was scared. I didn’t know what real life looked like.”

With support, she was able to learn the skills needed to live independently and she was finally provided the assistance needed to move into her own flat: “Gradually I made friends in the city and then I met my boyfriend. Now I’ve lived with him for nearly two years.”

But there is little support for tens of thousands of other people with disabilities to live in the community. Roman Vrábel (also pictured above) was placed in an institution for children at the age of six. “At the beginning it was really hard,” he said. “My grandma was able to take me home regularly, but then she got too old and the periods of time between visits got longer.” Roman told Committee members in Geneva that he had limited support to live independently, and no help to get a further education or a job.

Denisa Nincova, director of Slatinka institution and the SOCIA Foundation, which supports Angelika and Roman to live independently, said that there are 116 institutions in Slovakia that each warehouse over 100 people. The Slovak Government has no timeframe for their national deinstitutionalisation policy; moreover they have not shifted State funds from residential settings to services in the community. Slovakia operates a thoroughly outdated model of containment – not care – that is unfit for purpose.

Committee members asked the Government questions about segregation and institutionalisation of children with disabilities. According to a report submitted by MDAC and Slovak NGOs, almost 21,000 children with disabilities are denied inclusive education. Committee members probed the Government on the thousands of people with disabilities who had been denied education under an old law that labelled them “ineducable”. The Government in response repeatedly stated its commitment  to including children with disabilities in mainstream education – but offered no concrete plan in ensuring every child can enjoy this right, as guaranteed by UN disability law.   

Notes

Last year, MDAC won a case on behalf of Ela Grebeciová who was refused enrolment in school due to her disability. In another case, MDAC represented 4-year-old Lujza Tomasko after the Government refused to provide in-home services to allow her to live with her family.

In two weeks, the Committee will release its “concluding observations” on Slovakia's implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Personsw with Disabilities. MDAC calls on the Slovak Government to adopt a comprehensive and inclusive deinstitutionalisation plan, and to end segregated education by ensuring that each child – whatever their disability, race or ethnicity – is provided with inclusive education.   

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