Photo: Merel Coen from Ruiselede, Belgium. Source: Family.
Merel is eight years old and lives with her parents in Flanders, Belgium. Last year, like hundreds of other children, Merel finished nursery school and expected to move to her local primary school. But because Merel has Down Syndrome, the school refused to teach her.
Merel is one of approximately 46,000 children with disabilities in Belgium who are denied education in mainstream schools and forced to attend special schools. In these schools, their opportunities for learning are significantly lower, making their longer-term life prospects much worse than those of their peers. Even more, we estimate that over a thousand children in Flanders are considered not capable of learning and are offered no education at all because of their disabilities.
In 2014, the Government brought in a new law to fix this situation. However, when our lawyers looked carefully at it, it became very clear that the new law does not take the steps needed to ensure inclusive education for these children. In fact, it means that there is now a law allowing schools to continue to keep refusing children enrolment.
Validity and our Belgian partner, GRIP, immediately filed a case at the European Committee of Social Rights. In March 2018, the Committee agreed with us and found that the rights of children with disabilities in Flanders are being violated. Thanks to this decision, the Government must make significant reforms to the education system to stop the rights violations and ensure inclusive education for Merel and children like her.
But the Government have been slow to respond and no changes have happened yet. We need to keep the pressure up to make sure the Government undertakes reforms for these children. We are grateful for any donation you can make to help us do this.