Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

The European Committee of Social Rights requests that Council of Europe Member States introduce proper inclusive education and deinstitutionalisation processes.

By Csenge Schőnviszky 9th April 2024


At the end of March 2024, the European Committee of Social Rights published its Conclusions 2023 and Findings 2023 and called on Council of Europe Member States to introduce proper inclusive education and deinstitutionalisation processes. 

The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) published its 2023 Conclusions in respect of the articles of the European Social Charter relating to Children, Family and Migrants. It also published its 2023 Findings in respect of those eight States, including Belgium and Bulgaria, which have accepted the so-called collective complaints procedure under which non-governmental organisations can turn to the ECSR for rulings on possible non-implementation of the Charter in these countries. 

The ECSR serves as the European Social Charter’s monitoring body. It is made up of fifteen independent members who are elected by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. In 2023, the Validity Foundation and its national partner organisations submitted submissions to the ECSR concerning Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia and Hungary 

As a result of our litigation and advocacy work, the ECSR’s press release highlights, in connection with its 2023 Findings, that inclusive education for children with intellectual disabilities remains a persistent problem for which measurable progress needs to be achieved in order to bring the situation in conformity with the Charter. 

Validity (formerly Mental Disability Advocacy Centre – MDAC) previously successfully brought cases against Bulgaria and Belgium to the ECSR and argued that these countries violated the right of children with disabilities to inclusive education. Now, the follow-up assessment of the implementation of the ECSR Decision in the cases of MDAC. v. Belgium and MDAC v. Bulgaria revealed that sufficient steps have not been taken by either Belgium or Bulgaria to remedy the violations found by the Committee in relation to the lack of inclusive education measures. The ECSR also found that the mainstream educational institutions and curricula for the children concerned are still not sufficiently accessible in practice. 

Concerning Belgium, the ECSR further highlighted that eligibility requirements for admission to Flemish mainstream education are still based on the notion of integration rather than inclusion. Belgium has not provided any information in the follow-up process regarding the lack of an effective remedy against refusal of enrolment in mainstream schooling for children with intellectual disabilities. 

Concerning Bulgaria, the Committee highlighted that schools should meet the needs of children with intellectual disabilities in that teachers have to be appropriately trained to teach children with intellectual disabilities, and teaching materials have to be adequate. 

Aneta Genova, Executive Director of the Bulgaria-based Kera Foundation said, 

Following the ECSR’s findings in the MDAC v Bulgaria follow-up review, many steps have been taken to ensure access to education for children with disabilities. Unfortunately, despite legislative changes, the situation of children with disabilities has remained largely unchanged. We welcome the findings of the ECSR in the hope that the authorities will begin to address the problems faced by children with disabilities in accessing competitive education. 

The ECSR took note of our submissions concerning Czechia and Hungary as well. Although the monitoring body of the Charter explicitly mentioned our submissions in its Conclusions on Czechia and Hungary, it did not make any reference to the lack of inclusive education system in these two countries. In the case of Hungary, the Committee intend to review the right to education of children with disabilities on another occasion, under a different Charter provision dealing specifically with the right of persons with disabilities to independence, social integration and participation in the life of the community. 

Sándor Gurbai, Validity’s Impact Manager pointed out, 

The ECSR missed an important opportunity to call on the governments of Czechia and Hungary to implement inclusive education for all children with disabilities. 

Another result of the joint advocacy efforts of Validity and its Czech partner organisations is that the ECSR found that Czechia is not in conformity with the Charter on the ground that measures taken to deinstitutionalise the system of early childhood care are inadequate.  

We should note, however, with concern that as for the ECSR “targeted steps to deinstitutionalise the existing system of early childhood care” would be not only to provide young children with services in family, but in “community-based family-type settings” as well. Across Europe, “deinstitutionalisation” reforms have often consisted of the transfer of residents, including children with disabilities, from large institutions to small group homes or family-type homes for children. According to the UN Guidelines on Deinstitutionalization, including in Emergencies, these facilities shall be considered institutions. 

Tereza Bártová, a Czech lawyer working in cooperation with Validity said,

I welcome the ECSR’s finding that the government is not sufficiently focused on ending the hurtful institutionalisation of young children in the Czech Republic. However, efforts must continue to ensure that these children are not simply moved from large institutions to smaller ones. 

Validity invites the ECSR to revisit its views on different forms of institutions in light of the UN Guidelines on Deinstitutionalisation.