Hungary: Validity takes action to stop segregation of children with disabilities at nursery school
In September 2020, a nursery in the town of Vác, situated 40 kilometres from Budapest, reversed previous progress towards inclusion and began segregating children with disabilities from their peers without disabilities. Outraged parents strongly objected to the new practice introduced by the Head of Institution of Nurseries and People with Disability but without success. The nursery’s practice and the laws on which it is based violate Hungary’s international obligations laid down in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and breach the Hungarian Fundamental Law.
On behalf of the children and their parents, Validity has filed a case with the Equal Treatment Authority seeking recognition that the children have a right to an inclusive education together with their peers and to support to learn in a common learning environment. We also approached the Hungarian Fundamental Rights Commissioner, urging him to challenge the constitutionality of the laws allowing this practice before the Constitutional Court.
Although it has never fully respected the right of children to inclusive education, the Institution of Nurseries and People with Disability of Vác previously made some effort to at least ensure integrated play-time for students with disabilities together with their peers without disabilities. Even this limited practice has now been stopped and the nursery is instead imposing complete isolation on the children with disabilities. The parents report that since this increased segregation took place in the nursery, their children’s development has substantially worsened or even gone “backwards.”
According to the Head of Institution, the Hungarian legal provisions in force oblige the nursery to segregate children with disabilities. This is, however, incorrect: although certain national provisions do allow for segregation in nurseries, they do not require it and nurseries can ensure full inclusion. Indeed, both the CRPD and the Hungarian Constitution oblige the State to make sure that every nursery promotes and ensures inclusive education for all children – obligations that the local authorities are clearly failing to fulfil in this case. As the Fundamental Rights Commissioner has concluded on several occasions, inclusive education, which allows all children, including children with disabilities, to fulfil their full potential in a common learning environment in mainstream education, serves the best interest of the child and is “the only real and lasting educational solution from both, an individual and a community point of view” (The reports are only available in HU).
Following the parents’ request for information from relevant stakeholders, the Ministerial Commissioner for Nursery Affairs highlighted that the nursery’s former practice “enables a transition towards full integration. It also helps children not to experience future social impacts as drastic changes”. It also highlighted that, “it is highly important that they [children with disabilities] meet their peers without disabilities which can be provided through their unified daily programs.” Similarly, the Head of department of the Government Office of Pest County, underlines in his letter that “none of the provisions referred to justify the current placement of children with disabilities in the Nursery.” While these statements appear to be supportive of the children’s rights, they amount to nothing more than disingenuous, empty rhetoric in the absence of concrete measures by the Government to enforce those rights. They do nothing to mitigate the Government’s egregious failure to prevent and remedy this discrimination and the harm it is causing to the children concerned.
Furthermore, Validity is concerned about the confusing terminologies used in Hungary when it comes to distinguishing between “integration”, “full integration” and “inclusion”. While there is a lack of clarity concerning the contents of these notions, international law is clear that only fully inclusive education for all children at all educational levels is acceptable. Anything less, including so called “integration” and “full integration” violates their rights and is a form of discriminatory segregation.
Last year, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found Hungary responsible for “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of persons with disabilities and urged Hungary to “end the segregation of persons with disabilities in education, particularly children requiring high levels of support, and adopt a strategy to implement inclusive education at all levels of education.”
Despite the above, the Government has done nothing to comply with its international obligations such as, for example, abolishing legal provision allowing segregation, adopting new, CRPD compliant laws or implementing inclusive education strategies. At the same time, the local government of Vác as the maintainer of the nursery has purposely failed to remedy the situation when it was brought to their attention.
The current practice of depriving children with disabilities of inclusive education is unlawful and unacceptable. It is evidence-based that segregated education widens performance gaps and leads to, among other things, insufficient academic qualifications, lack of access to employment and life-long isolation and stigmatisation in society. Validity calls on the Ministerial Commissioner for Nursery Affairs, the local government of Vác and the Head of Institution of Nurseries and People with Disability to immediately rectify this violation of the children’s rights and take all necessary measures to institute full inclusive education in the nursery.