The report referred also to the current obstacles in inclusive education and the problems of children with disabilities. The research was conducted in Armenia for the first time.
Jane Buchanan, Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia, Human Rights Watch, researcher and author of the report, Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus Director, Human Rights Watch, researcher for the report, Marie Minasyan, 12-year-old girl with a disability, who attends an inclusive school in Goris, Armenia.
“We decided to do this research because this was the right time to look into what has been progress so far, what are the gaps that the government should fill and what are the lessons learned so far, and what are the international law standards,” Giorgi Gogia said.
Over 170 people were interviewed in 8 cities of Armenia: Yerevan, Kapan, Goris, Vanadzor, Gyumri, Armavir, Hacik and Tjambarak.
“We interviewed 47 children and 63 families of children living in orphanages or attending special schools or mainstream schools. We visited 5 orphanages and 10 schools, including 6 special schools. We have spoken with all relevant staff members including directors, teachers, social workers, doctors care givers, psychologists and others. We have also interviewed all relevant government officials that are in charge of institutions in Armenia including Minister of Labor, Minister of Education, Minister of Territorial Administration and Development, Yerevan Municipality Office as well as other relevant government officers,” Gogia said, adding that they interviewed over dozen of NGOs who have been working on the issues of children’s rights in Armenia.
Jane Buchanansays that almost 3500 children live in state orphanages and other residential institutions in Armenia.
“They are there overwhelmingly due to poverty or disability. We investigated the situation of children in Armenia based on international principles. People with disabilities have the right to live in a community and not to be segregated or isolated. Institutions of any type should always be the last resort and only for short period and exceptional circumstances. If in a rare case a child cannot remain with their birth family, alternative family option is always the best option,” she said.
In the framework of the research, visiting the special institutions for children with disabilities, they overwhelmingly found that the material conditions are basic or satisfactory.
“Children in orphanages often don’t get the care and the attention that they need. Important resources such as rehabilitation, certain specialists are available only behind the wall at closed institutions rather than in communities,” Jane said.
According to the research results, more than 90% of children living at care institutions have a parent.
“The Government should make efforts that care institutions are as few as possible, instead, the children live with their families, and these families are provided with the necessary resources. All children have the right to grow up in a family, the government and donors should support families and children, rather than large institutions,” Jane said.
She emphasized that a child with disabilities are often present in the classroom but not engaged in the curriculum. They actually do not attend school, but take lessons of Armenian, Russian, and mathematics at home. According to her, many schools do not have the necessary conditions so that the children can attend, and even if they attend, they are not involved in the class.
“Instead of classes, they are given painting, knitting or other assignments during the classes. While children with disabilities and without them should get the same education, the same class. So, the system should be flexible,” Jane stressed.
She is concerned with the fact that the Government has no specific plans to transform the three orphanages for children with disabilities. So even the overall number of children in residential institutions goes down, the concentration of children with disabilities in the institutions goes up.
Giorgi Gogia said that Armenia should review the Family Code and make serious amendments.
“ If a child with a disability does not live with his family, a care giver, adoptive families should exist who will be involved in the child care,” Gogia said.
According to UNICEF data, financial assistance to children in Armenia's state institutions annually comprises 3.000-5.000 USD per child.
Referring to the deinstitutionalization program funded by the international organizations and implemented by RA government, the very purpose of which is the reorganization of 22 institutions until 2021, and the return of children to their birth family or finding a foster family for them, Jane said: “These funds can be used for community-based services and families for direct assistance. The government is obligated to propose a child several options for family model if the child cannot stay and live with her birth family. In this case, children with disabilities will have full life. But in Armenian right now there is a budget support for only 25 faster families for the entire country.”
12-year-old Marie Minasyan from Goris inclusive school told about the obstacles she has to overcome to go to school.
“There is no elevator in our school, every day I am walking 3 floors up and down, which is very difficult for me,” Marie said, who has problems with mobility.
She says that the bathroom is located on the first floor of the school, next to boys’ bathroom, so that she can not use it. Elder sister accompanies her to school every day.
“"I am the only student at our school who has problems with mobility. We had a neighbor girl who also had problems with mobility, but due to the lack of the necessary school facilities, she used to stay at home and learn the lessons. The teachers used to come home and teach her, but after the 4th year she gave up education,” Marie said, encouraging children with disabilities not to feel ashamed.
“You should go to ordinary school because all are equal,” Marie said.
To watch the video, follow the link.
Lilit Arakelyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”
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