A child looks out the window at the Belovodsk Psychoneurological Institute for children in Kyrgyzstan, November 15, 2017. © 2017 Danil Usmanov, kloop.kg

(Berlin) – Thousands of children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan are segregated in residential institutions where they can experience neglect, inappropriate medical treatment, and discrimination, Human Rights Watch said in a report published today, on International Human Rights Day.

The 74-page report, “Insisting on Inclusion: Institutionalization and Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Kyrgyzstan,” documents how children are frequently denied quality, inclusive education, in which children with and without disabilities study together in mainstream schools. Children with disabilities are subject to discriminatory government evaluations that often lead to segregation in special schools or at home, Human Rights Watch found. Kyrgyzstan ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2019.

“The Kyrgyz government has committed to guaranteeing access to inclusive education, meaning that children with disabilities should be able to study in mainstream schools in the communities where they live,” said Laura Mills, researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author. “However, the government still needs to turn this pledge into a reality for children across the country.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 111 people between October 2019 and July 2020, including children and young adults with disabilities, teachers and staff at residential institutions and special schools, parents, and disability rights activists. Human Rights Watch also visited six residential institutions and schools for children with disabilities in four regions.

Human Rights Watch found that the institutions had insufficient personnel to care for children with disabilities, resulting in neglect or lack of individualized attention. Children were segregated according to disability, which is discriminatory.

Human Rights Watch also documented that institution staff regularly use psychotropic drugs or forced psychiatric hospitalization to control children’s behavior and punish them.

A doctor at an institution for children with disabilities described sending a boy to a psychiatric hospital because the institution staff were unhappy with the boy’s behavior. The doctor recognized the dangerous use of medications on children, saying, “There they can even overdose on sedatives, but [the hospital] has an intensive care unit so they can resuscitate them.”

None of the six institutions visited had accessible and confidential complaint systems, meaning that children there cannot report abuse or neglect.

Since 2012, the Kyrgyz government has pledged to close 17 residential institutions for children, including three for children with disabilities. But 3,000 children with disabilities remain in institutions, and the government has closed only one residential special school.

Two bodies evaluate children and can make recommendations based on a child’s disability that block their access to mainstream education, or to any education at all. The Psycho-Medical-Pedagogical Consultations (PMPC), made up of doctors and education specialists, often recommends that children with disabilities study in special schools or receive home education. Another body, made up only of doctors, can make similar recommendations, including that some children should not receive any education.

While evaluations by these two bodies are formally recommendations only, Human Rights Watch found that mainstream schools often deny enrollment to children who were recommended for special school or home education.

Human Rights Watch found that children who live at home, including those whose parents have taken them out of an institution, encounter significant, discriminatory obstacles to their education in mainstream schools.

A major barrier to inclusive education is that mainstream schools are physically inaccessible or do not provide necessary support to children with disabilities. Due to the absence of support or accommodations, many parents may feel compelled to accompany their children to school to help them move between floors of the school, use the bathroom, or read the blackboard.

While many children with disabilities receive education at home, parents said teachers come for very few hours and are often not trained in teaching a child with a disability.

Children in residential institutions and special schools receive either a poor education or no education at all.

The limited access for children with disabilities to mainstream schools is discriminatory and violates Kyrgyz and international law, Human Rights Watch said. State agencies should stop segregating children and identify and provide individualized supports, known as reasonable accommodations, to ensure a child’s education. Under Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights obligations, children with disabilities have the right to live in the community and to grow up in a family.

The Kyrgyz authorities should make providing inclusive education for children with disabilities a priority despite the country’s current political and constitutional crisis.

The government should abolish or reform the bodies that block access to quality, inclusive education for children with disabilities. It should establish a clear, time-bound plan to close institutions for children, including children with disabilities, and develop community-based services to support children to grow up with their families. For as long as children live in institutions, the authorities should protect them from neglect and inappropriate medical treatment and provide accessible complaint systems.

“For Kyrgyzstan to successfully close residential institutions for children with disabilities, it needs to begin dismantling the obstacles that exclude them from schools in their communities,” Mills said. “The government should ensure that children with disabilities study together with their peers and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.”