Children and Disabilities
Rights of disabled children: The Convention on the Rights of the Child foresees that “a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child's active participation in the community.” As well as having the same rights as other children, children who are disabled are entitled to special care under Article 23 of the Convention, with a view to ensuring “that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child's achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development”. Care is to be provided free of charge wherever possible.
Disabled adults and children in Turkey: According to the national survey conducted by the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat) in 2002, 2.58 percent of the Turkish population were disabled. The most common form of disability was orthopedic disability, affecting 1.25 percent of the population. This was followed by sight impairment (0.60 percent), mental disability (0.48 percent), speech impairment (0.38 percent) and hearing impairment (0.37 percent). All forms of disability are most common among males, in rural areas and in the Black Sea region. Children make up a high proportion of the disabled. The Turkstat survey found that about 1.54 percent of 0-9 year-olds and 1.96 percent of 10-19 year-olds were disabled in some way as of 2002. For boys, the ratios were higher, at 1.70 percent and 2.26 percent. The figures cited exclude the chronically ill. According to Turkstat, 2.60 percent of children aged 0-9 and 2.67 percent of children aged 10-19 were chronically ill. The frequency of disability and chronic illness may be partly related to the prevalence of inter-marriage between relatives. A second national survey is now being conducted and is due to be completed in 2010.
Disability law: Parliament ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2008. Turkey is also in the process of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which will allow individuals and groups to complain about any violations to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 61 of the Constitution states that “The state shall take measures to protect the disabled and secure their integration into community life”. Legislation on services for children with disabilities was first passed in 1997. This legislation was updated in 2005, through Law No. 5378. The latter law aims to prevent disability, resolve problems related to the health, education, rehabilitation, employment, care and social security of the disabled, provide for their full development, remove obstacles to their participation in society and ensure coordination of public services for them. It opposes discrimination and sets a deadline of 2012 for making public buildings and local transport accessible to disabled people.
Education for disabled children: The Ministry of National Education includes children with disabilities in the education system either in an integrated way or through special education schools. Within the Ministry, the Directorate of Special Education, Guidance, and Counselling Services and its provincial and district units are responsible for managing the education of disabled children. The Special Education Decree-Law (No. 573) of 1997 emphasises that children requiring special education should be educated alongside their peers in regular schools on the basis of personal education plans. The education of those who need to receive education in a separate school or institution alongside other children with similar disabilities, the Decree-Law says, is to be carried out in special education schools and institutions with appropriate arrangements for mixing. The Decree-Law also makes preschool education mandatory for children identified as being in need of special education. In practice, most children identified as having special educational needs (45,532 children in the 2005-6 academic year) are educated alongside their peers. Others (8,921 in the 2005-6 academic year) are educated in special education classes in regular schools and about 25,000 attend special education schools or are educated in special education classes within primary education schools102. Some disabled children also receive free school transport. Formal documentation and analysis of Turkey’s experiences in the education of disabled children might make it possible to pinpoint successes and difficulties, with respect to both social integration and to educational access and achievement, as well as contributing to the international literature.
Care, rehabilitation and other services: The 1997 law provided special education and rehabilitation services to children with health insurance if they were issued with disability reports by provincial disabled health boards. The 2005 law extended the responsibilities of various public agencies towards the disabled, and made special education and rehabilitation services available for children with or without health insurance. It also provided for the provision of such services by the private sector, subsidised by the state. As a result, such centres have sprung up all over the country, and the number of children benefitting from their services has risen rapidly to a reported 182,000 in the 2007-8 school year103. Various other services, programmes and benefits are also provided for the disabled and chronically ill in areas such as health, education, social security, social services, employment and taxation. The Prime Ministry Administration for Disabled People (Özida) acts as a coordinating and policy-making body with respect to services for the disabled. Municipalities and non-government organisations are also involved in provision for the disabled. There are numerous local and national associations made up of disabled persons and members of their families. For members of those groups of disabled whose needs are greatest, the General Directorate for Social Services and the Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK) provides residential care and/or supports home care, and supervises private sector institutions providing these services. As of August 2009, the General Directorate operated ten family counselling and rehabilitation centres, where group therapy and similar services are provided, as well as 61 residential care and rehabilitation centres. Home care is the preferred approach, and since 2006 SHÇEK has made it possible for financial support to be paid in respect of close to 200,000 disabled persons in low-income families. Typically, a minimum wage is paid to the carer.104 Efforts are under way to handle applications more rapidly. Efforts are also being made to improve the quality of residential homes and standards for carers. The services offered by SHÇEK and the information which it provides do not always distinguish between adult disabled persons and disabled children, and individual residential institutions may cater for both age groups. According to Turkey’s second periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the number of disabled children under protection and care rose from 473 in 2001 to 856 in 2006, while 26 disabled children were placed with foster-parents and daytime care was provided at SHÇEK family consultation and rehabilitation centres to 513 disabled girls and 719 disabled boys.