Children with disabilities have the same rights as all other children, but ensuring that those rights are realised in practice requires special attention and special measures. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) together provide a strong legal basis for the realisation of the rights of children with disabilities.
Finland’s first ever National Child Strategy Finland for all children was published in the spring. It is based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child but also draws from the obligations set in the CRPD. The purpose of the strategy is to ensure a goal-oriented and consistent implementation of fundamental and human rights obligations concerning children across all administrative sectors and levels. In addition to the children and young people themselves, the strategy and its implementation focuses extensively on the families that care for them.
Strategy guidelines on children with disabilities
One of the three key ideas expressed in the strategy is closely linked with children and young people with disabilities: the position of vulnerable children must be secured and their needs better recognised. The general principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – non-discrimination, the primacy of the best interests of the child, the right of the child to life, survival and development and the right of the child to be heard – underpin the strategy and are particularly important to children and young people with disabilities. Such children and young people are more prone to loneliness and experience discrimination, violence and maltreatment more often than their peers, and their views on matters that affect them are easily disregarded by adults, especially if their disability makes communication or interaction challenging.
The wellbeing and realisation of the rights of these children and young people are particularly dependent on the support they receive from society through day care, schools, and social and health services. For example, ensuring that the voice of a disabled child is heard usually requires suitable and adequate services that meet the individual child’s needs, such as personal assistance, or transport and interpretation services. Supporting the families of children with disabilities through effective and timely services is an essential part of ensuring they have sufficient resources to support and promote the wellbeing, growth and development of their child.
Promoting the wellbeing and rights of children must be data based
The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that the best interests of a child be a primary consideration in all actions that concern the child. In the case of children with disabilities, the principle of the primacy of the best interests of the child is further reinforced by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires that the best interests of the disabled child be paramount.
The child impact assessment is a tool for guaranteeing the best interests of children in decision-making and services. Likewise, when carrying out disability impact assessments, the best interests of the disabled child must be the primary consideration. This is required not only by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 3.1) but also by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 7.2). Any child impact assessment must consider the best interests of children with disabilities and, similarly, disability impact assessments cannot be carried out without also considering the effects of decision-making on children with disabilities.
There is a strong legal basis and wellbeing aspect to assessing the effects of decisions on children. The legal basis for carrying out such assessments derives from the obligation to determine the best interests of the child. The wellbeing aspect ensures that assessments also analyse the effects of decisions on the wellbeing, development and environments of children and young people. To do all of this well, sufficient data is required.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has stressed the importance of data-based promotion of children’s wellbeing and rights. Currently, there are inconsistencies and gaps in the collection of data, especially on children and young people with disabilities, which undermines the data-driven approach to improving the wellbeing of children. The National Child Strategy aims to fill these data gaps, as successfully doing this is one of the prerequisites for the effective implementation of the Strategy.
Finland for all children
The National Child Strategy requires that all decision-making affecting children in our society also considers the rights of children with disabilities. As the title of the strategy states, we want to build a Finland for all children, meaning that, in all that we do, we want to create a society that is inclusive of everyone, in which every child is a valuable and important participant and actor and receives the help and support he or she needs.
A strategy implementation plan is currently being prepared to promote the strategy policies during this governmental term. The draft implementation plan was circulated in summer 2021 and included a number of proposals aimed at strengthening the equal realisation of children’s rights and improving their wellbeing.
One particularly topical and important issue for children and young people with disabilities and their families is how the disability services hit by the COVID-19 crisis will be restored. We must ensure that the problems caused by the crisis and potential local authority budget cuts do not put further stress on children and young people with disabilities and their families and cut down already stretched services.
Sources and further information
- Vammaisen lapsen oikeudet. (The rights of children with disabilities, Inclusion Finland KVTL website, in Finnish): https://www.tukiliitto.fi/tuki-ja-neuvot/perus-ja-ihmisoikeudet/vammaisen-lapsen-oikeudet/
- Ahola, Sanna – Pollari, Kirsi: “Lapsella on oikeus osallisuuteen – vammaisuudesta riippumatta”, Päätösten tueksi 1/2018, Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare. (In Finnish) https://www.julkari.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/135864/URN_ISBN_978-952-302-999-6.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
- “National Child Strategy”, Committee report, Publications of the Finnish Government 2021:8. (In Finnish or Swedish, abstract in English) https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/162864
- Iivonen, Esa – Pollari, Kirsi: “Legal basis of the National Child Strategy”, Reports and Memorandums of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2020:20. (In Finnish or Swedish, abstract in English) https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/162242
- Iivonen, Esa – Pollari, Kirsi: “Handbook on child impact assessment for legislators”, Publications of the Prime Minister’s Office 2021:5. (In Finnish, abstract in English) https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/163343
- “Children, youth and the COVID-19: Assessment of the materialisation of the rights of the child and proposals for post-crisis measures presented by a working group on the National Child Strategy”, Publications of the Finnish Government 2021:2. (in Finnish, abstract in English) https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/162647
- “Wellbeing of children and young people in post-crisis measures related to COVID-19 – Report on the realisation of the rights of the child, coronavirus working group linked to the National Child Strategy”, Publications of the Finnish Government 2020:21. (In Finnish or Swedish, abstract in English) https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/162318