Social Reform? No, we have not heard…

Recently the 14th session of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities took place in Geneva, where our country reported on the compliance with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in Ukraine. This is a standard procedure which should be followed by all states that have ratified the document. For example, Kenya and Ghana reported at the same time as Ukraine, and the week after was the turn of the European Union. According to the rules, the state should report on the fulfilment of its commitments, as well as on the observance of certain rules and articles of the Convention.

Once there is official translation of the Committee’s conclusions, the observations and recommendations of this body take effect and allow conducting objective analysis of how the Convention is implemented by Ukraine.


Ukraine ratified the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in 2009. According to the document, the state has committed to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and main freedoms for all persons with disabilities without any discrimination on the ground of disability. The Convention contains 50 articles, which in detail provide the particularities of ensuring the rights of people with disabilities (to equality and non-discrimination, education, health, family, rehabilitation, labour and employment, etc.) and also in the context of vulnerable groups (women and children with disability).

Five points which turned out to be two

The practice of reporting every four years also requires to listen to the reports made not only by the official delegation, but also by NGOs which operate in this field. Obviously, this procedure ensures that the Committee members get a more complete and objective picture, because usually official representatives make emphases on positive sides, saying that everything is all right, and if there are any problems, the war is to be blamed for that.

In fact, the Ukrainian side has almost nothing to report about. For the last four years which have passed since the previous report, the Committee members were able to note only five positive aspects: Amendments to the Law “On the basis of social protection of disabled people in Ukraine”, introduction of criminal liability for discriminating against persons on the grounds of disability, appointment of the Commissioner of the President on the Rights of People with Disabilities, adoption of the state program “National Action Plan on Implementing the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People” and the National Action Plan on “Barrier-less Ukraine” for 2009-2015.

Unfortunately, we all know that the adoption of laws in Ukraine does not guarantee the implementation of its rules. Moreover, politicians are always sure that they can show it as a result of work, but none examines afterwards how all these letters and words of the law really affect the quality of human life. So even these five aspects, in fact, are difficult to claim as successes.

What is with your terminology?

As many as 9 pages of Concluding remarks on the report of Ukraine adopted by the Committee contain the main problematic areas and recommendations which were expressed by foreign experts to Ukraine.

The members of the Committee provided the most resonant reviews on the terminology used in Ukraine. In fact, the very title of the Convention I write here is not correct, not in accordance with the law. Because till now, despite constant appeals made on this issue by the leading human rights organizations and the public, we have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, although the correct name of the document is the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. During informal meetings, the Committee members were very surprised that there were such definitions as “people with health defects”, “persons with defects”, “disabled” etc.

In addition, the Committee members expressed their concern on the situations related to the children with disabilities, particularly, on the existence of an extensive system of institutions for them. Namely, it is about sexual abuse and exploitation of children with disabilities in these institutions, as well as lack of rehabilitation programs for them. Separately, the concern was expressed about the reports on the deaths of children with disabilities in such institutions due to malnutrition or diseases.


In Ukraine, as of 01.01.2015, a total number of people with disabilities was 2,568,532 people (or 5.98% of the total permanent population in the country (42.9 million people), 151,125 of whom are children.

Special category

Representatives of Ukrainian NGOs that deal with this issue drew attention particularly on the failure to ensure in practice the implementation of Article 7 of the Convention “Children with disabilities”. After all, the most vulnerable group are children with intellectual disabilities and multi-disabilities.

The most urgent problem in this area is, first of all, the lack of early intervention mechanism at the state level. Medical diagnosis that the child receives upon defining his/her disability identifies and records the range of services available to this child, instead of taking into account his/her real needs. For children with multiple disabilities, a variety of diagnoses does not allow to define the main problem, and, in practice, these children become excluded from social protection and education.

Secondly, inclusion (inclusion of all children – without considering peculiarities of their development – into a common educational space of preschool, school class, etc.) is substituted with segregation (creating, in secondary schools, separate groups for children with special needs). In pre-schools, there are specialized groups for children, according to their diagnoses, and on the level of secondary school, inclusive education is not even provided by laws. Only 2,100 students with special needs among 120,000 children with disabilities of school age study in inclusive classrooms. Around 60 thousand children with disabilities are outside of the secondary education system, meaning that they are in special care institutions, orphanages, or at home.

65 to 5

The list of major problem areas and recommendations outlined by the public and the Committee is a "red card" for the state of Ukraine on fulfilling its international commitments on human rights. As already noted, there are only five aspects to describe positive changes. At the same time, 65 issues were defined by the Committee members as problematic!

The lack of practical implementation of the Convention and the fact that International Committee recognized that Ukraine insufficiently performs its obligations may have negative consequences for the state which is the UN member and regularly receives considerable technical, humanitarian and financial assistance from the organization. Although the Committee's recommendations are not mandatory in nature, however, political conclusions on and consequences of such ill-conceived policy may affect further relations between Ukraine, the UN and international organizations.

It is time for another reform. A social one

The main hit, of course, will be “held” by the Ministry of Social Policy, which is currently a rather active reformer in the government. However, the issues of compliance and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in Ukraine should be a concern not only of this governmental body. The Ministry of Healthcare (namely on the introduction of early intervention), the Ministry of Education and Science (inclusion in education), the Ministry of Regional Development (implementing the principles of universal design) and other agencies and departments are also responsible for that.

This reform requires a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach. And, in Ukraine, there is a body that could provide it; this is the National Council of Reforms, a platform for successful development and implementation of urgent reforms, in which 18 reforms are prioritized. These 18 areas do not include the reform on social security system, despite the difficult economic, political, financial crisis, which led to a sharp decline in social standards and the quality of life in Ukraine. It should be emphasized that the situation in our country is unique, because no successful reforms, which Ukraine is appealing to (like in Slovakia, Poland, Georgia, Baltic countries), took place without a special attention to and prioritization of social reforms. Yes, these reforms were mostly painful and rigid (overcoming paternalism and dependency mentality cannot not be easy), but they were absolutely, comprehensively linked to economic reforms, decentralization etc. That was the core of their success.

Direct speech

From the speech of the Deputy of the Minister of Social Policy, Vasyl Shevchenko: “Over the past three-plus years, Ukraine has adopted a series of regulations aimed at implementing the rights of people with disabilities and ensuring their full participation in society. Now there are three bills under the consideration of the government which regulate the particularities of persons with disabilities’ access to educational services, provide the introduction of incentive mechanisms for employers to hire people with disabilities, and regulate other aspects... Undoubtedly, there are still some problematic questions which require solutions and appropriate measures. First and foremost, it is to create a barrier-free environment. Besides that, the software of Centralized data bank on disability problems requires modernization and development”.

The Commissioner of the President on the Rights of People with Disabilities, Valery Sushkevich: “I cannot agree with the report of the state on the current state of ensuring the rights of people with disabilities, presented to the UN Committee. Neither the main report nor the responses to questions reflected the real picture. And sometimes the information from the Government was causing indignation, that is why, I requested to speak to be able to tell the truth. Unfortunately, the time limits of the Committee did not allow the Commissioner of the President on the Rights of People with Disabilities to provide the information fully... Majority of the Committee members emphasized the inadmissibility to decrease social support to these citizens, and especially the need to ensure the rights of people with disabilities, in accordance with the commitments of Ukraine defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities”.

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, during 2012-2014, persons with disabilities were given almost 2 million rehabilitation equipment units and two thousand cars free of charge, and from budgetary allocations, 8 major rehabilitation institutions for disabled children were equipped with modern equipment, including robotic systems of locomotor therapy.