More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017. Greece, with support from its European Union partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Shantha Rau Barriga is the founding director of the disability rights division at Human Rights Watch. She leads research and advocacy on human rights abuses against persons with disabilities worldwide including: the shackling of people with psychosocial disabilities, denial of education for children with disabilities, violence against women and girls with disabilities, institutionalization of children and adults with disabilities, and the neglect of people with disabilities in humanitarian emergencies. She has worked on projects on Australia, Brazil, Central African Republic, China, Croatia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Russia, Serbia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, the United States, and Zambia.  

Shantha is a founding member of the International Network of Women with Disabilities, member of the Amnesty International Advisory Group on Disability Rights, expert advisor to the Catalyst for Inclusive Education Initiative and a senior advisor to the Global Campaign for Mental Health. She also served on the UNICEF Advisory Board for the 2013 State of the World’s Children report.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Shantha participated in the UN negotiations toward the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, working as part of a global coalition to advocate for strong protections on non-discrimination, accessibility, education, legal capacity, independent living and international monitoring. She also previously worked with UNICEF Tanzania, carrying out an assessment on children with disabilities in refugee camps in Kibondo.

Shantha received degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the University of Michigan, and was a Fulbright Scholar to Austria. She speaks German and Kannada. Shantha is married and has two sons.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Children with disabilities in Nepal face serious obstacles to quality, inclusive education. Despite progress in law and policy, the government segregates most children with disabilities into separate classrooms. It has yet to train teachers to provide inclusive education, in which children with and without disabilities learn together. Tens of thousands of children with disabilities remain out of school.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bangladesh’s overcrowded, hilly, and rain-soaked mega camp for ethnic Rohingya refugees is precarious for everyone, but especially for people with disabilities. More than 700,000 people reside in the camp after fleeing the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing more than a year ago.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

Bangladesh: Poor Conditions for Rohingya Refugees with Disabilities (Accessible)

Bangladesh’s overcrowded, hilly, and rain-soaked mega camp for ethnic Rohingya refugees is precarious for everyone, but especially for people with disabilities. More than 700,000 people reside in the camp after fleeing the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing more than a year ago.  

(New York) – Bangladesh’s overcrowded, hilly, and rain-soaked mega camp for ethnic Rohingya refugees is precarious for everyone, but especially for people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today in a new video. More than 700,000 people reside in the camp after fleeing the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing more than a year ago. 

“Walking through the camps, we found large numbers of Rohingya refugees with disabilities,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Many of the people in the camp had acquired their disabilities from brutal attacks by Myanmar’s military.”

Despite efforts by the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, and the refugees themselves to build handrails, many walkways are impassable for people who have difficulty walking. Hussein Ahmad, whose 17-year-old son was shot in the neck during their escape from Myanmar and is now paralyzed from the waist down, said: “I thank the doctor who gave my son a wheelchair, but I can’t use it because the roads are very dangerous and keep getting worse. It is time for my son to study, but he can’t walk, and his life is being destroyed in front of me.”

Work to shore up the hastily and haphazardly built huts and other camp structures has been hindered by the Bangladeshi government’s insistence that the refugees are only staying temporarily and will soon return to Myanmar. The authorities have resisted developing camp infrastructure that would suggest a longer term stay. As a result, lighting, accessible toilets, and proper walkways with handrails that are critically important for people with disabilities have been slow to develop.

“With such widespread misery and obvious needs for the Rohingya refugees generally, there is a risk that refugees with disabilities will be overlooked,” Frelick said. “But this is precisely the time when the needs of people with disabilities ought to be a priority.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Children with disabilities in Nepal face serious obstacles to quality, inclusive education. Despite progress in law and policy, the government segregates most children with disabilities into separate classrooms. It has yet to train teachers to provide inclusive education, in which children with and without disabilities learn together. Tens of thousands of children with disabilities remain out of school.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Deaf children have a right to a quality education, like all other children, in a language and environment that maximizes their potential. In this video, in conjunction with a global conference in Sydney on equality for deaf people, Human Rights Watch shows some of the challenges faced by deaf children and young people, and the opportunities sign language education offers them.
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) ­ – Access to sign language, including in education and public services, is critical for the human rights of deaf people, Human Rights Watch said today. On the first International Day of Sign Languages, Human Rights Watch is trying to make its work more accessible to deaf communities by translating its publications into sign language, and making them available through videos.

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed September 23, 2018 as the first International Day of Sign Languages, to raise public awareness of sign languages and their vital importance to fundamental rights. This is a symbolic victory for deaf communities worldwide, commended by the World Federation of the Deaf and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“For deaf people, access to sign language is key to breaking down communication barriers and participating in society just like anyone else,” said Lea Labaki, junior disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The right of deaf people to access schools, medical treatment or courts hinges on their opportunity to use their own language.”

On September 23 and 24, Human Rights Watch publications will be made accessible in sign language to promote the inclusion of deaf people and raise awareness of their rights. This will include certain news releases, multimedia and key parts of  the  website. This initiative also recognizes the importance of informing deaf communities about human rights and ensuring they have access to global news. Human Rights Watch is committed to making  its work accessible for everyone with disabilities, for example through sign language and easy-to-read formats for Human Rights Watch  materials. 

Realizing the rights of deaf people starts with ensuring that deaf children have access to education in sign language. Deaf children have a right to a quality education, like all other children, in a language and environment that maximizes their potential. Worldwide, deaf children and young people are often denied an education, including in sign language. There is a lack of teachers well-trained in sign language, and in many cases, parents do not know that their children have a right to go to school and that they can learn if given the right support.

Lack of awareness of sign language also means that deaf people struggle to access public services, including the services mandated to assist them. A deaf woman in Iran told Human Rights Watch that when she visited the State Welfare Organization to get a reference for genetic counseling before having a baby, she faced what she described as “insulting and heartbreaking behavior” from a social worker: “The lady working there literally got mad at me. I’ll never forget that day. I tried to talk to her by writing on a piece of paper, but she started shouting, and I could tell she was insulting me. I cried so much.”

In Russia, Iran, Zambia and Uganda, Human Rights Watch documented that communications barriers  interfered with deaf people’s right to health, starting with the difficulty in getting health information in an accessible format. In addition, when medical staff rely on family members or friends to communicate effectively with deaf people, this affects their right to privacy.

The consequences can be dramatic. In South Africa,  a deaf gay man went for an HIV test,  but the clinic staff could not communicate with him in sign language, he told Human Rights Watch. The doctor completed a blood test, showed him a piece of paper that said, “YOU ARE HIV POSITIVE,” and then asked him to leave. He did not receive any counseling or support in a language he understood.

A deaf woman in Uganda said that she could not communicate with her nurses effectively while giving birth. The woman was not aware that she was having twins and stopped pushing after the birth of the first child. “[The nurse] was very rude to me, and she didn’t know sign language,” the woman said. “She couldn’t even tell me to push. She wasn’t guiding me. One of my children died.”

Inaccessible health care is just one of the hurdles faced by deaf women who have experienced violence. In India, Human Rights Watch found that deaf women face high risk of sexual violence. They may not be able to call for help or easily communicate abuse, or may be more vulnerable to attacks simply due to the lack of ability to hear what is happening in their surroundings. Deaf victims of violence also struggle to navigate the services to support survivors of sexual abuse and as well as the judicial system.

In consultation with deaf and hard of hearing people and organizations representing them, governments should provide access to professional sign language interpretation in using public services, such as health care, education or the justice system.

In the prison system, deaf offenders also have a right to reasonable accommodations to meet their needs. In Australia, out of the 14 prisons visited by Human Rights Watch, only 3 had proper provisions for deaf prisoners to communicate with their families, over video calls. The communication barriers lead to misunderstandings with staff and feelings of isolation among prisoners, and undermine the ability to maintain family ties that will help prisoners reintegrate into the community after their release.

In times of conflict, displacement, and other humanitarian emergencies, the barriers faced by deaf people are compounded. Deaf people who manage to flee violence and find refuge in displacement camps are isolated and have limited access to aid. A 24-year-old deaf man from Syria who was in a camp near Thessaloniki, Greece said he rarely left this tent for months because he did not have hearing aids, which were damaged on his journey to Greece. Many aid groups need to do more to address the needs of deaf people and ensure that information and services are available in sign language.

“Worldwide, the dearth of information in sign languages marginalizes deaf people and hinders their access to services,” Labaki said. “Making human rights news accessible in sign language is part of a much-needed global effort to give people who are deaf the access to community life and services that many other people take for granted.”  

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Children with disabilities in Nepal face serious obstacles to quality, inclusive education. Despite progress in law and policy, the government segregates most children with disabilities into separate classrooms. It has yet to train teachers to provide inclusive education, in which children with and without disabilities learn together. Tens of thousands of children with disabilities remain out of school.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

Nepal: Barriers to Inclusive Education (Accessible)

Children with disabilities in Nepal face serious obstacles to quality, inclusive education. Despite progress in law and policy, the government segregates most children with disabilities into separate classrooms. 

(Brussels) – Children with disabilities in Nepal face serious obstacles to quality, inclusive education, Human Rights Watch said today.

Despite progress in law and policy, the government segregates most children with disabilities into separate classrooms. It has yet to train teachers to provide inclusive education, in which children with and without disabilities learn together. Tens of thousands of children with disabilities remain out of school.

“Despite several new policies to promote disability rights, including for access to education, many children with disabilities in Nepal are not getting a quality, inclusive education,” said Alpana Bhandari, disability rights fellow at Human Rights Watch. “Public schools should provide adequate support for children with disabilities to learn in classrooms with other children and not segregate them.”

Based on research conducted in May 2018 in 13 public schools in five districts across Nepal, Human Rights Watch found that segregating children with and without disabilities has denied many children with disabilities their right to education. Human Rights Watch interviewed 80 children with disabilities, their families, representatives of organizations for people with disabilities, teachers, principals, government officials, and United Nations staff.

Children who are deaf and their teacher in a segregated resource classroom, public school, Kathmandu, Nepal. May 2018 Human Rights Watch

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

This research builds on the August 2011 Human Rights Watch report “Futures Stolen: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Nepal,” which found many children with disabilities in Nepal faced barriers in accessing schools and obtaining a quality education. Since that time, Nepal has improved laws and policies regarding access to education for children with disabilities, and some children have benefited. Thousands of children with disabilities continue to face significant obstacles to education, however.

Based on UN and World Health Organization estimates, Nepal has 60,000 to 180,000 children ages 5 to 14 with disabilities. In a 2011 report, Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 207,000 children in Nepal have a disability. In 2016, UNICEF found that 30.6 percent of children with disabilities, or approximately 15,000 to 56,000 children, ages 5 to 12, did not attend school.

Very few mainstream public schools enroll children with disabilities. Out of more than 30,000 schools in Nepal, just 380 have what they call “resource classes,” where children with a particular disability, such as children who are blind or who have an intellectual disability, are grouped with others with a similar disability. In the schools Human Rights Watch visited, children in resource classes ranged in age from 7 to 17, with some even in their 20s. Children often remain in these classes for years, although some may move to mainstream classrooms in the higher grades, with limited support.

Nepal has no academic curriculum for children with intellectual disabilities, including children with Down Syndrome. Those who do attend school learn only basic skills, largely focused on self-care. Denying education based on a child’s disability is discriminatory, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2010, Nepal ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which guarantees the right to inclusive, quality education. Children with and without disabilities should learn together in classrooms with adequate support in an inclusive environment. Research shows that an inclusive approach can boost learning for all students and combat harmful stereotypes of people with disabilities.

“Sunita,” 15, who is deaf, attends a resource classroom in a public school in Lalitpur. “I have never been to a regular class,” she said. “I want to learn together with others. It is more fun learning together with friends.”

Most mainstream schools visited also lack teachers trained in how to use accessible learning materials, such as braille and audio equipment, and how to make testing accessible. The classrooms lack accessible infrastructure.

A principal at a public mainstream school in the Gorkha district in western Nepal said that one former student with a physical disability crawled on his hands and knees to get from one classroom to another for the seven years he attended the school, because the school was not wheelchair accessible.

Since 2011, the Nepali government has introduced reforms to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities and to expand educational opportunity. The 2015 constitution says that education is a fundamental right and provides for free and compulsory primary education and free secondary education, as well as the right to free education through braille and sign language.

In 2017, Nepal adopted the Disability Rights Act and an Inclusive Education Policy for Persons with Disabilities. The policy says that children should be able to study, without discrimination, in their own communities, but also allows educating for children with disabilities separately.

The government is also developing an inclusive education master plan to create disability-friendly educational infrastructure and facilities, improve teacher training, and develop a flexible curriculum by 2030. However, the government has yet to articulate in law or policy a clear understanding of what quality, inclusive education in line with international standards requires and how to provide it.

Nepal’s major education reform, the School Sector Development Plan for 2016 to 2023, covers pre-school through high school education. The budget for the first five years is estimated at US$6.46 billion. Eleven percent of the cost is provided by international donors, including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and the European Union. The program builds on a previous reform plan, which the government acknowledged did not do enough to ensure education for children with disabilities.

The government should ensure schools are accessible for all children, children with disabilities are taught in mainstream classrooms, and all teachers are trained to provide inclusive education, Human Rights Watch said.

A specialized teacher using sign language to teach students in a public school in Mahottari district, Nepal. May 2018 Human Rights Watch.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The government should also provide reasonable accommodations to support individual learning. This can include braille textbooks, audio, video, and easy-to-read learning materials; instruction in sign language for children with hearing disabilities; and staff to assist children with self-care, behavior, or other support needed in the classroom.

“Nepal’s government and its international partners have made education a clear priority, including for children with disabilities, but they need to do much more to make this vision a reality,” Bhandari said. “Support for children to study in mainstream classrooms, teacher training, and a flexible curriculum are essential to make sure children with disabilities aren’t left behind.”

Nepal’s Education System for Children with Disabilities

Until early July 2018, mainstream schools could apply to the Education Ministry for funding to teach children with disabilities. As of August 28, schools apply to local authorities instead. However, funding is only allocated if a school has a set minimum number of children with a specific type of disability. Because of the funding structure, children are compartmentalized into classrooms based on their disability. And if a school has funding for one type of disability, it may not have the resources to teach children with other disabilities.

Problems of Grouping Classes by Disability

The principal of one school in the Gorkha district told Human Rights Watch that his school has a resource classroom for children with intellectual disabilities and is not physically accessible, nor can it accommodate children with hearing and visual disabilities. Similarly, the principal of a public school in Mahottari, which has a resource class for children who are blind or have low vision, said that his school cannot enroll students with intellectual or hearing disabilities because the school does not have the necessary accessible learning materials, sign language interpreters, or trained teachers.

A teacher at a different public school in Mahottari said that the school has 10 students with visual disabilities. One girl is blind and has a mental health disability, which causes the student to frequently move around the classroom. The teacher said that she did not have the training and skills to teach this student, who was not making academic progress as a result.

If a neighborhood school doesn’t offer instruction for a child with a particular disability, the child may be forced to study and live in a school that does, in some cases as far as 500 kilometers from their home.

Ten-year-old Sita, who is blind and attends a school in Mahottari, said:

I live in a hostel … I go to school… I miss home, but I love school. There is no school near my home [that can educate blind children]. My mom says you cannot learn anything at home, and I must go to school to learn.

Shyam, who has cerebral palsy, attended a neighborhood school near his home in Kathmandu in the early grades. However, at the end of sixth grade, the teachers encouraged his parents to place him in another school because seventh grade and other upper grades were on upper floors. Shyam now travels with his father up to two hours each way by bus to attend a public mainstream school in Jorpati that enrolls children with cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, and physical disabilities.

Segregation

Some schools that Human Rights Watch visited had children in different grades together in one resource classroom. Others had children in different grades in separate resource classes. In resource classrooms, children with hearing disabilities learn sign language and children with visual disabilities learn braille.

Human Rights Watch interviewed children who expressed their desire to study with children in mainstream classrooms, rather than to remain segregated. Sunita, the 15-year-old girl who is in a resource classroom for deaf students in a public school in Lalitpur, said:

I study in grade 5 … I have never been to a regular class. I want to learn together with others … It is more fun learning together with others. After grade 6, I would want to study together with friends. I [would] get a chance to teach sign language to other kids in the regular class and I can communicate with them. I want to be a teacher when I grow up because I want to teach children with hearing disabilities.

An Education Ministry official involved in developing an inclusive education policy said resource classes should be preparatory environments for younger children who should move to a mainstream classroom around grade six. However, based on interviews with principals, teachers, disability rights advocates, and parents of children with disabilities, children do not consistently move into mainstream classrooms as they get older, due to the lack of accessibility and reasonable accommodations.

 Children on a playground in a public school in Jorpati, Kathmandu, Nepal. May 2018 Human Rights Watch.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Some older children remain in resource classrooms for their entire basic education, through grade 8. Some parents said that when their children did not move to the older grades in mainstream schools, they felt compelled to place their children in other segregated environments, such as a special school or vocational training program. Few older children studied in mainstream classrooms in the schools Human Rights Watch visited.

Gita, who is 16 and attends school in Lalitpur, was able to move into a mainstream classroom. She said: “I am 16 years old. I am in grade 10. … I am deaf. I joined the regular classroom in grade 7. I like studying together with others because learning together becomes fun, and we learn from each other.” A sign language teacher supports Gita’s learning in the mainstream classroom.

Lack of Physical Accessibility

Most schools visited had limited physical access for students with disabilities, including at school entrances, classrooms, and toilets. In some cases, this means that children who use wheelchairs cannot remain in school. The father of a 20-year-old man with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair said:

            I enrolled my son in a public secondary school [in Kathmandu] for one year and he     passed grade 6. But then the teachers said, “Your child is disabled, your child does not fit         with children without disabilities. Take your child to a               school where children with disabilities attend. The seventh grade is on the third floor, and your child will not be able      to reach it.

Out of the 13 schools that Human Rights Watch visited, including two that were recently constructed after the 2015 earthquake, only one, in Jorpati, Kathmandu, was accessible for children who use wheelchairs. The school has an accessible entrance, no internal stairs, an accessible toilet, and a flat playground that allowed children who use wheelchairs to move freely. The school has 354 students, of whom 27 use wheelchairs. The principal said the school does not provide specific, individualized support for children in the classroom, such as an aide who can provide direct support in personal care, moving around the school, or other tasks. Instead, teachers encourage other students to support their peers who have physical disabilities.

Disability rights activists confirmed most schools lack physical accessibility. A disability rights activist and representative of the National Federation of the Disabled Nepal, who lives in the Gorkha district, said he is not aware of any public schools out of roughly 450 primary and secondary schools in the district that are accessible for students who use wheelchairs.

Under international human rights and Nepal law, public buildings – including schools – should be accessible for people with disabilities based on Universal Design principles. Universal Design means the design of products, environments, programs, and services should be usable by everyone to the greatest extent possible, without adaptation or specialized design. This should include assistive devices for particular groups of people with disabilities, as needed. Nepal’s Disability Rights Act of 2017 establishes accessibility standards for the construction of buildings, including educational institutions, housing, workplace, road, and transport facilities that are intended for public use, while the National Building Code requires public buildings and facilities to be accessible for people with disabilities.

The 2015 earthquake destroyed or damaged 92 percent of public schools, leaving many children, with and without disabilities, out of school across the country, according to a 2017 Asian Development Bank report. Newly built or renovated schools should adhere to Nepal’s National Building Code and Accessibility Guidelines and comply with accessibility obligations under the CRPD.

However, the two newly built schools that Human Rights Watch visited did not comply with national building codes and universal design principles. One, in the Gorkha district, had stairs at the entrance and no ramp or lift, and stairs inside as the only way to reach upper floors. In Lalitpur, the principal of a public school admitted the school does not meet national physical accessibility standards, and an additional building under construction is slated to have only an entrance ramp and only stairs internally to reach the upper floors.

Lack of Reasonable Accommodations

Human Rights Watch visited some schools where children with disabilities studied in a regular classroom with children without disabilities. However, most of the schools Human Rights Watch visited did not provide sufficient reasonable accommodations to ensure children with disabilities receive a quality education.

Schools do not have a full range of textbooks in braille, or material in audio or easy-to-read formats. Schools lacked adequate staff, such as aides to support children’s participation in mainstream education. The aides, who are not fully licensed teachers, can constructively address behavioral challenges, provide personal care assistance, or take on other support roles.

Typically, schools who teach deaf children only have one sign language teacher, who works in the resource classroom. The instruction is limited to approximately 5,000 words in sign language, a fraction of the spoken vocabulary taught in mainstream schools.

Students in a classroom, public school, Jorpati, Kathmandu,  Nepal. May 2018 Human Rights Watch.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The lack of vocabulary, as well as the absence of visual materials, means that even deaf children in a mainstream classroom may not receive a full education. One sign language teacher at a school that Human Rights Watch visited said,

There are 46 students in the class, one of whom is deaf. It is difficult to teach children who are deaf due to a lack of visual materials and a limited sign language vocabulary. When the teacher teaches in the class and new words come up during a lesson, it becomes difficult to describe and explain the lesson.

Samjhana, an 18-year-old deaf student there, described her experience:

Sometimes it is difficult to understand lessons that are taught in the class. I ask my [sign language] teacher when I do not understand. The teacher tries to explain, but I do not understand the words. The learning is more fun and easier with something you can see and understand.

Children who are blind or have low vision learn braille in resource classes, but a limited number of textbooks are available in braille and very few, if any, materials are available in audio or digital formats. One 17-year-old girl, who is blind, described her experience in a mainstream classroom in Lalitpur:

The challenge I have is that I am not able to see and follow what is written on the blackboard. I depend on other students to understand what is written on the blackboard. Not many braille books are available. In this school, children who are blind do get the opportunity to learn, teachers are helpful and so are my friends.

In Kathmandu, Suman, 14, who is blind, attends a mainstream classroom in a school with a teacher who knows braille to support children with visual disabilities. Suman used technology at home to learn, though, since none was available at the school:

I got my digital tablet from an NGO … I also use my mobile telephone at home. I read books with the tablet. … The app has a voice, and I can read by listening. I spoke with my teachers about digital learning, and teachers say they are hoping to adopt that.

A student who is blind using a braille textbook in a mainstream classroom, public school, Kathmandu, Nepal. May 9, 2018 Human Rights Watch.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The lack of reasonable accommodations, such as aides, can also place serious burdens on families. Some family members may feel compelled to give up employment and the care of their other children to accompany their child with a disability at school. Hari, the father of an eighth grader with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair in Kathmandu, said he had to quit work when his son was 8 to accompany him in school all day. The public school Shyam attends does not provide an aide to help him move between classes and feed him. His father said:

My son is big. Who would care for him? I come to school every day to support my son in the school. The school does not provide assistance to support my child. … He can fall any time.

The school principal said the staff encourages Shyam’s classmates to help him with homework and classwork.

Lack of Reasonable Accommodations for Examinations

The schools Human Rights Watch visited provide few accommodations for students with disabilities during exams, though most are mandatory for passing to the next grade or for enrolling in high school or a university. The accommodations provided – such as a writing assistant for students with visual disabilities – are often ineffective. The assistant is often another child, typically from a lower grade, who is not paid.

In one example, there are no options for children with visual disabilities to take math and science tests in an accessible format. Tests often require description of diagrams or pictures, which blind children cannot see.

Nisha, in grade 10, who is blind and attends a public school in Mahottari, said:

The writing assistant helped me take my tenth grade exam. The writing assistant would read me the questions, and I would answer, and then the writing assistant would write down the answers for me. … I wish I could take exams on my own, not with the help of a writing assistant. It’s difficult to perform math and science exams because they have questions related to geometry and questions with drawings, and I cannot see them.

Furthermore, the family of the student taking the exam must pay for the transportation and meals for the assistant. Teachers and disability advocates said exams are not modified for children who are deaf who have been instructed in a limited vocabulary.

Children with Intellectual Disabilities

Children with intellectual disabilities do not receive an academic education and have few if any opportunities to enroll in secondary education or a university. Under the Disability Rights Act of 2017, a person is considered to have an intellectual disability if their “intellectual development does not progress with their age and therefore has difficulty performing activities based on age and environment.” The Education Ministry’s Curriculum Development Center created a curriculum for children with intellectual disabilities in 2015. The curriculum limits children with intellectual disabilities to learning practical life-skills in resource classrooms or special schools for up to 10 years. It includes tasks like personal hygiene, brushing teeth, going to the toilet, getting dressed, and eating independently. Children who are 14 and 15 years old can learn vocational skills such as candle-making, sewing, or origami.

A teacher in the resource classroom at a public school in Mahottari, said:

The school has not received any curricula for children with intellectual disabilities from the government. I teach children with intellectual disabilities using pictures. It would be possible to teach children with intellectual disabilities by using simplified curricula that suits their learning style.

Lack of Trained Teachers

Nepal’s 2017 Disability Rights Act (section 23.2) provides for special training for teachers who educate children with disabilities to promote their access to quality education, but does not mention training for teachers in inclusive education. Training is focused on developing specialized teachers, rather than training all teachers in inclusive methods that will benefit diverse learners. One mainstream classroom teacher said the only training she had on children with disabilities was a one-week program focused on discipline and classroom management conducted by a non-governmental organization.

A specialized teacher teaching children who are deaf in sign language in a mainstream classroom, public school, Kathmandu, Nepal. May 2018 Human Rights Watch.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The Education Ministry’s Center for Education and Human Resource Development, formerly the National Center for Education Development (NCED), is responsible for teacher training. The agency’s deputy director, Upendra Dahal, told Human Rights Watch the government provides one month of professional development training to special education teachers who work in resource classes or in special schools. He told Human Rights Watch the center is currently not offering the five-day refresher training that exists. Occasionally, the agency holds training sessions of a day or two for specific disability-related topics, such as teaching children with autism.

Human Rights Watch found some resource teachers had received less than a month of training. Kumar, a resource teacher for children with intellectual disabilities at a public school in Gorkha, said:

I have been a resource teacher for three years. I only received nine days of training from the Department of Education [Now the Center for Education and Human Resource Development]. Otherwise, I have received training from the local nongovernmental organization, Blind Association Gorkha. I do not know how to teach children with intellectual disabilities. I want to teach these students, but I do not know how to impart knowledge to them.

Monitoring

Until early 2018, federal, district, and regional authorities were responsible for monitoring schools. In mid-2018, with the decentralization of education funding to municipal and village authorities, local education offices will have that responsibility.

An Education Ministry official said monitors examine schools’ budget implementation, student attendance, teaching methods, uniforms, school sanitation, food quality, and quality of accommodations in residential schools.

For schools with resource classes, monitoring also examines whether schools have met requirements for a resource classroom. Those include the presence of a full-time, permanent teacher and of the required minimum number of children, and the “minimum enabling conditions,” which include a separate classroom, separate toilet for girls, a ramp at the school entrance, and a disability-friendly classroom, although there is no clear definition for this.

Recommendations

The government of Nepal should:

  • Guarantee quality, inclusive education for children with disabilities in community mainstream schools on an equal basis with others, in line with the CRPD
  • Ensure maximum inclusion of children in mainstream classrooms and avoid segregation of children with disabilities in separate classrooms. Education should be delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development, in line with the CRPD.
  • Ensure reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities, based on individual learning requirements. These can include braille textbooks and other materials; digital, visual, audio, and easy-to-read learning materials; instruction in sign language for children with hearing disabilities; and aides to assist students with behavior, self-care, and other considerations.
  • Ensure children who require individual support, or support for small group coursework, are fully included in the school environment with other students.
  • Ensure all schools are physically accessible. Ensure all schools renovated or newly built adhere to Nepal’s building codes and Universal Design Principles.
  • Ensure the examination and assessment system is flexible and responsive to the needs and academic progress of individual learners, based on their individual learning requirements.
  • Mandate the Education and Human Resource Development Center to provide adequate pre-service and ongoing training in inclusive education for all teachers, including on how to address all children’s diverse learning needs.
  • Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, which permits the reproduction and distribution of published works in formats accessible to people with visual disabilities.
  • Strengthen monitoring and oversight to ensure children with disabilities are enrolled in school and they receive reasonable accommodations to receive a quality education on an equal basis with other children in mainstream classrooms.
  • Collect data on the total number of children with disabilities in the country, including the number of children in and out of school, disaggregated by disability-type, location, and other demographic markers. Formulate educational policies, plans, and programs based on data.

Multilateral and Bilateral Donors should:

  • Ensure the government of Nepal prioritizes the inclusion of children with disabilities in schools across the country and provide adequate resources to ensure they can study in mainstream classrooms with flexible curricula, reasonable accommodations, and trained teachers and other staff
  • Support the government to improve systematic data collection on children with disabilities by age, gender, disability, and educational access.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Restrains on a bed in a seclusion room in a psychiatric hospital in southwest Croatia. 

© 2014 Emina Ćerimović/Human Rights Watch

This is the story of how a key political body within the Council of Europe sought to circumvent a United Nations Convention protecting the rights of people with disabilities. It’s also about how one of its members, Bulgaria, is publicly pushing back against the move.

In 2011, the Committee of Ministers – made up of foreign ministers from across Europe – proposed a new agreement to allow “people with mental disorders” be treated and institutionalized against their will. This was to become the draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention.

This week, Bulgaria has become the first state to publicly speak out against the draft protocol. The Committee of Ministers should be listening. For the protocol is deeply problematic.

While the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) guarantees people with disabilities the same right as anybody else to liberty, to make decisions about their health, and other deeply personal matters, the protocol, if adopted, would allow people to be deprived of their liberty and forcibly treated because they have psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions).

With 46 out of 47 Council of Europe member states being party to and bound by the CRPD, there is no clarity on how the Committee of Ministers believes governments should deal with contradicting legal standards.

Organizations representing people with disabilities, the UN – including the Special Rapporteur on Disability, and even the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and Commissioner for Human Rights – all oppose the draft protocol. Yet the Committee of Ministers appears unfazed.

Year after year, it has pursued the protocol. And while people with psychosocial disabilities all over Europe are waiting to be treated more humanly, experts in Strasbourg are discussing how to better lock them up.

Then on Monday, during the UN review of Bulgaria’s implementation of its commitments under the CRPD, Bulgaria was challenged to show its commitment to disability rights. The country’s key message was: We oppose the Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention. While Bulgaria is not the only country to oppose the protocol, Portugal has also done so in closed meetings, the public nature of its opposition is important.

Bulgaria's statement was celebrated by organizations promoting the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities, such as Mental Health Europe and the European Disability Forum.

Bulgaria’s public rebuke of the draft protocol should inspire other countries to do the same, ensuring people with disabilities enjoy equal rights, and confirming that they would not sign on to other treaties which directly undermine those obligations. That would truly be a happy end.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A voter uses an electronic voting machine to cast a ballot during the Georgia primary runoff elections in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

© 2018 Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A proposed move by the elections board of a majority-African American county in Georgia to close seven of its nine polling sites, citing non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has triggered an uproar amid allegations of voter suppression.

Here’s the bottom line: Closing these polling stations doesn’t help voters with disabilities. Rather than closing polling stations for lack of accessibility, the county should update these public facilities to ensure that they are accessible. These facilities, such as a firehouse, should be accessible in any case.

Critics suspect that these moves are really just a thinly-veiled effort at minority voter suppression. A 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting key provisions of the Voting Rights Act also plays into the controversy. In the past, this county would have needed permission from the federal government to close these polling stations to ensure no one planned to deliberately suppress minority voters. No longer.

For the upcoming November election, disability advocates themselves have called for practical solutions, such as the option of curbside voting, to ensure that all voters, including people with disabilities, can participate in the political process.

During a community meeting last week, elections consultant Mike Malone, who is spearheading the effort to monitor ADA compliance in Georgia, said he was “not hired to find alternatives.”

The Randolph County Elections Board is scheduled to vote on this matter tomorrow. Let’s hope they reject this terrible idea and make sure all of the County’s voters have every opportunity to cast their votes.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Girls watch television inside the girls’ wing at Asha Kiran, a government-run residential institution for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health needs in Delhi, in April 2018.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Wearing yellow trousers and a green T-shirt that says “Daddy’s Future Hall of Famer”, seven-year-old Aman* came running to give the smiling, middle-aged woman present there a big hug, wrapping his tiny arms around her waist. Aman has Down Syndrome and has lived most of his young life in Asha Kiran, a government-run residential institution for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health needs in Delhi. His effusive greeting was for a senior official at the facility.

His parents abandoned him, said the official. He was one of three children and when his parents separated, they each took one healthy child and told a non-governmental organisation to make arrangements for Aman. That is how he came to be at the residential facility. Aman will most likely spend the rest of his life inside the walls of this facility, where residents are often called inmates and few ever leave.

On the day of our visit in April, Asha Kiran, run by the Delhi government, housed 1,023 men, women, and children. It is grossly understaffed and overcrowded, housing double its capacity. It admits about a 100 new people every year. There are only 50 beds, reserved mostly for people with what are deemed as severe disabilities, especially infants and children, while the rest sleep on mattresses on the floor.

According to official records, between 2011 and 2017, 123 men and 73 women died in Asha Kiran. The deaths have prompted concerns over conditions there, leading the Delhi High Court to ask the state government why 11 people died within two months in 2017.

The government has failed to fill vacancies and provide adequate support to staff members in Asha Kiran, leaving them “to swim or drown”, as one senior staff member put it. Out of 400 children at the institution, some 80 are enrolled in a nearby school. Two special education teachers come to Asha Kiran but they are hardly adequate given the number of children and their varied needs. They have little opportunity to learn and play like other children.
 

In For Life

Most children and adults come to institutions like Asha Kiran after their families abandon them, or they are picked up by the police if they are wandering on the streets and considered dangerous or incapable of taking care of themselves. They are admitted to these institutions through court orders with no real possibility of appeal. They are unable to leave and can be kept there for life if no family member comes to take them home.

The ongoing Supreme Court hearings on the conditions in government-run institutions for people with disabilities highlight the government’s failure to ensure the rights and dignity of this hidden population. In December 2016, the Supreme Court, in a case dealing with the pitiable conditions in Asha Kiran, observed that this could be true of other such institutions in the country, and directed state governments to take remedial measures and report back on compliance with the court’s directives. However, little action was taken and the court is now seeking compliance reports from the Union and state governments.

The United Nations Disability Rights Treaty, which India has adopted, recognises the rights of people with disabilities to live in the community. India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, provides that the government will formulate necessary plans and programmes within its economic capacity to enable them to live independently or in the community.

India’s 2014 mental health policy recognises that the abandonment and homelessness of people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities, or mental health needs, can be due to absence of “available, effective and affordable services” for them and their families. It also acknowledges that violation of their rights is a common reality and among others, singles out women, children, and people in custodial institutions as vulnerable populations.
 

Law vs. Reality

The laws and policies may be in place but the reality is quite different.

As institutions like Asha Kiran demonstrate, the government has done little to develop community-based assisted living services or other forms of support to allow people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities to live independently and in the community. The government should also ensure dignified living conditions in institutions and move toward closing them.

The residents at Asha Kiran and other institutions across India have the same rights to education, rehabilitation and employment opportunities as any other citizen, which would allow them to work, earn, and live fuller lives, but without government action they will remain isolated, neglected and invisible.

Human Rights Watch found in a 2014 report that women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities in residential institutions, including Asha Kiran, faced particularly abusive conditions including overcrowding and lack of hygiene, inadequate access to general health care, and physical, verbal, and even sexual violence.

Some progress seems to have been made at Asha Kiran since then. We observed that women were fully clothed and appeared to have proper hygiene, an important step toward returning some semblance of dignity. But their hair was still clipped short, and they continued to be infantilised, with staff calling them and treating them like children.

“Show them how you can write your name,” said one staff member to a 40-year-old woman who had been living there for decades. When we spoke with her, she was articulate, thoughtful and seemed quite sharp. Yet she had not learned much more than to write her name. Most residents are just placed in front of a television set for most of the day, their potential unexplored.

Asha Kiran made some effort to find employment opportunities for people living in the institution, placing eight young men to work at a nearby dairy. But their co-workers began to exploit them, treating them as simpletons and overburdening them with their share of the work too, a staff member told us, explaining why the institution decided to end that initiative. “The society is not accepting of these people,” she said. “Girls are doubly vulnerable.”

But as the senior official hugged Aman back, she acknowledged that things need to change. “Institutions like Asha Kiran should not exist,” she told us. “They belong in their homes.”

*Name changed to protect identity.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A prisoner lies in his solitary confinement cell in the safety unit at Lotus Glen Correctional Centre, northern Queensland. Prisoners in solitary confinement typically spend 22 hours or more a day locked in small cells, sealed with solid doors, without meaningful social interaction with other prisoners; most contact with prison and health staff is perfunctory and may be wordless. 

© 2017 Daniel Soekov for Human Rights Watch

“The senior officer stood on my jaw while the other [officer] hit my head in and restrained me. They said, ‘You don’t run this prison … we do,’ and they cut my clothes off. They left me naked on the floor of the exercise yard for a couple of hours before giving me fresh clothes.”

For Waru (not his real name), an Indigenous prisoner with a psychosocial disability (mental health condition), the unspeakable is almost routine. As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man with a disability in an Australian prison, Waru was tragically accustomed to being locked up in solitary confinement, facing physical abuse, and hearing racial slurs from prison officers.

More than 35 years after the United Nations first instituted an International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to be left behind.

Video

Australia: End Solitary Confinement of Prisoners with Disabilities

People with disabilities in prisons across Australia are at serious risk of sexual and physical violence, and are disproportionately held in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day.

I visited 14 prisons across Australia, and heard story after story of Indigenous people with disabilities, whose lives have been cycles of abuse and imprisonment, without effective support. The result is Australia’s prisons are disproportionately full of Indigenous people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up just 2 percent of the population, but they represent 28 percent of the full-time adult prison population. Multiple forms of disadvantage mean that they are more likely to live in out-of-home-care, end up homeless, have earlier contact with the police, and end up in prison more frequently than their non-Indigenous peers. Within this group, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with disabilities are even more likely to end up behind bars.

Once in prison, their lives continue to be rife with racism and abuse. Due to a lack of training, custodial staff often misinterpret the behavior of a prisoner with a disability and respond in a punitive rather than supportive manner.

The Australian government should commit to making it a priority to address abuse against, and meet the needs of, Indigenous prisoners with disabilities. That includes working closely with organizations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people with disabilities to develop culturally appropriate resources and training materials for prison staff, service providers, police, and the judiciary. The government should fund representative organizations to provide specialized and culturally appropriate support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with disabilities in prison.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 19, 2017. Said Reuters photographer Cathal McNaughton: “It was important to show the scale of the situation. To show the terrain, the earth where the Rohingya had to live. I waited for the element that would bring all this image together. The person in the bottom left of the frame holds the umbrella in the monsoon rains in an attempt to bring some respite from their situation.”

© 2017 Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

(Bangkok) – The Bangladeshi government should relocate Rohingya refugees living in a severely overcrowded mega camp to safer ground in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today. The refugees, who fled the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing that began in August 2017, should not have to face flooding and landslides, and should have sturdier shelters and adequate education for their extended stay.

The 68-page report, “‘Bangladesh Is Not My Country’: The Plight of Rohingya Refugees from Myanmar,” is based on a May 2018 visit to Cox’s Bazar. Human Rights Watch found that the mega camp is severely overcrowded. The average usable space is 10.7 square meters per person, compared with the recommended international standard of 45 square meters per person. Densely packed refugees are at heightened risk of communicable diseases, fires, community tensions, and domestic and sexual violence. Bangladeshi authorities should relocate Rohingya refugees to smaller, less densely packed camps on flatter, accessible, nearby land within the same Ukhiya subdistrict where the mega camp is located, Human Rights Watch said.

“Bangladesh has rightfully garnered international praise for receiving 700,000 Rohingya refugees, though they still face difficult conditions,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Bangladesh should register fleeing Rohingya as refugees, ensure adequate health care and education, and let them pursue livelihoods outside the camp.”

Video

Video - Landslides Threaten Rohingya Shelters in Bangladesh

Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh are at imminent risk of landslides. Bangladesh authorities, with the assistance of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, should urgently relocate refugees to safer ground. 

Many of the new Rohingya arrivals, plus another 200,000 who had fled previous waves of persecution in Myanmar, are living in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp, Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp. Despite efforts by the refugees and aid agencies to strengthen huts, build safer infrastructure, and develop safety plans, the camps and their residents have remained highly vulnerable to catastrophic weather conditions. On July 25, five children were killed in flooding and landslides.

Interview: “An ‘Island Prison’ is Not the Answer”

Interview: “An ‘Island Prison’ is Not the Answer”

Bill Frelick, director of the refugee rights program at Human Rights Watch, spent 10 days in May at the world's largest refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. He recently spoke to Nazish Dholakia about what he saw, the risks the Rohingya refugees face, and Bangladesh’s misguided plans to relocate refugees to a flood-prone island. 

Bangladeshi authorities, to maintain pressure on Myanmar to agree to the return of the refugees, insist that the camps are temporary. This, however, contributes to the poor conditions in the camps, as the government has blocked the construction of permanent structures, including cyclone-resistant buildings, and has not allowed for other infrastructure that would suggest longer-term stay. Educational opportunities are inadequate.

“I live in fear of landslides,” said a 26-year-old mother of four living in a hut on a steep slope in the camp. “I keep putting sandbags next to our hut to keep it from sliding down the hill. I would like to relocate to a safer place. I think about it all the time. No one has talked to me or offered relocation.”

Relocation of a significant number of refugees to less densely packed camps, with fewer environmental risks and adequate standards of services, is crucial for the health and well-being of all the refugees, Human Rights Watch said. However, this needs to be done with the consultation and consent of the refugees to keep their displaced village communities intact and maintain contact with the broader Rohingya refugee community.

The Bangladesh navy and Chinese construction crews have prepared the uninhabited island of Bhasan Char for the transfer of refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area. The Bangladeshi foreign ministry, in response to a letter from Human Rights Watch, said that since the refugee presence “is destroying the overall economic, social, environmental situation,” the government would soon start relocating 100,000 Rohingya to Bhasan Char, which will be fortified by an embankment to protect from high tides and waves. However, the mangrove-and-grass island, formed only in the last 20 years by silt from Bangladesh’s Meghna River, appears unsuitable for accommodating the refugees. Experts predict that Bhasan Char could become completely submerged in the event of a strong cyclone during a high tide.

The island would most likely have very limited access to education and health services, and few opportunities for livelihoods or self-sufficiency. The government has made no commitment to allow refugees’ freedom of movement in and from Bhasan Char. In addition to Bhasan Char’s environmental failings, housing refugees there would unnecessarily isolate them, and preventing them from leaving would essentially turn the island into a detention center.

Bhasan Char is not the only relocation option. Experts pointed out six feasible relocation sites in Ukhiya subdistrict totaling more than 1,300 acres which could accommodate 263,000 people. These sites are in an eight-kilometer stretch almost due west of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp, toward the coast.

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© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The Bangladeshi foreign ministry said that while Bangladesh was providing basic needs, “the ultimate solution of the Rohingya problem lies in the safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return” of the refugees. The ministry said they had already released 6,000 acres of reserve forest, and due to the existing “land shortage of our own population,” no further alternative land was available. They said the only other possible alternative settlement was in Bhasan Char.

Donor governments and intergovernmental organizations should be genuinely and robustly involved in supporting Bangladesh to meet the humanitarian needs of all Rohingya refugees. They should fund the humanitarian appeal for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, but also apply concerted and persistent pressure on Myanmar to meet all conditions necessary for safe, dignified, and sustainable return of the Rohingya refugees.

The refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch all said they wanted to return to Myanmar, but only when conditions allow them to return voluntarily. These include citizenship, recognition of their Rohingya identity, justice for crimes committed against them, return of homes and property, and assurances of security, peace, and respect for their rights.

“It has been nearly one year since Myanmar’s campaign of killings, rape, and arson drove the Rohingya refugees across the border. Responsibility for this crisis lies with Myanmar, even though the burdens of this mass influx have mostly fallen on Bangladesh,” Frelick said. “Myanmar’s failure to take any meaningful actions to address recent atrocities against the Rohingya, or the decades-long discrimination and repression against the population, is at the root of delays in refugees being able to go home.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am