COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES CONSIDERS REPORT OF HUNGARY
21 September 2012
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today completed its consideration of the initial report of Hungary on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Presenting the report, Miklos Soltesz, Minister for Social, Family and Youth Affairs, said that since the Communist era political change, which started in 1989, had brought about a change to people’s attitudes towards persons with disabilities and the idea of equal rights in disability policies was placed on the agenda for the first time. A prominent example of that change was the 1998 Act on the Rights and Equal Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities, which had been a pioneering piece of legislation in Hungary. Hungary had devised its own action plan but, at the same time, as a Member State of the European Union, it had to keep in mind the European Union’s Strategy on Disability, which primarily focused on equal opportunities. The Hungarian Government had committed substantial funds to achieving its objectives. The Convention was not a final list of tasks to be carried out but, rather, a set of guidelines which would guide the efforts made by States parties. It was therefore important to incorporate the spirit of the Convention into national policy.
The Committee congratulated Hungary on the commitment it had showed to tackling issues facing persons with disabilities and asked the delegation about the protection of women and children, the Roma community, education for children with disabilities and Special Educational Needs, and the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to psychosocial disabilities. Committee Members focused particularly on the programme of deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities, but also raised accessibility to public buildings and transport, issues surrounding jobs and employment, and abortion in relation to women with disabilities.
In concluding remarks, Miklos Soltesz, thanked the Committee and said that their questions showed that the Committee’s expectations of Hungary were very high, which confirmed that the issues of persons with disabilities were extremely important to the Committee, as they were to Hungary. Any gaps which had been identified in Hungary’s implementation of the Convention would be addressed by the Government.
In initial concluding remarks Damjan Tatic, Committee Member acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Hungary, expressed satisfaction with the detailed responses and concrete figures which the delegation had provided and hoped that the interactive dialogue would help Hungary to harmonize further its national legislation with the Convention and would prompt the country to reflect on the thirty-year period during which its deinstitutionalization goals would be achieved.
The Delegation of Hungary included representatives from the Ministry for Social, Family and Youth Affairs, the Ministry for Social Inclusion, the Ministry of Education, the Department for Disability Affairs, the Department for Occupational Rehabilitation, the Department of Benefits and Allowances, the Department for Social and Child Welfare Services, and the Permanent Representative of Hungary to the European Union, the National Directorate General for Disaster Management, the Hungarian Prison Service Headquarter and the Department of International Organizations and Human Rights.
The Committee will hold closed meetings until the end of the session, which will take place at 3 p.m. on Friday, 28 September, when it will adopt its concluding observations on the reports of China, Argentina and Hungary reviewed during the session.
Introduction by the Chairperson
RONALD McCALLUM, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the Hungarian delegation and said that Hungary had been one of the first countries to ratify the Convention and to submit its initial report. The Chairperson announced that today's public meeting was being webcast live, and could be watched via the following link: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
Report of Hungary
The initial report of Hungary can be read via the following link: CRPD/C/HUN/1
Presentation of the Report
MIKLOS SOLTESZ, Minister for Social, Family and Youth Affairs, said that during the Communist era Hungary had operated in totally different conditions, as a result of which it had accumulated a backlog when it came to the way it dealt with persons with disabilities, who, for the most part, had remained hidden from society until the 1990s. Political change, which started in 1989, brought about a change to people’s attitudes towards persons with disabilities and the idea of equal rights in disability policies was placed on the agenda for the first time. A prominent example of that change was the 1998 Act on the Rights and Equal Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities, which had been a pioneering piece of legislation in Hungary. In 2006 the Hungarian Parliament unanimously adopted the bill of ratification of the Convention and of the Optional Protocol and, since then, had focused on making the text of the Convention accessible to persons with disabilities. However, even prior to 2006 the country had already started dealing with issues such as education, institutional care, employment, and accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The Convention was both a starting point and a benchmark for legislative measures. The major Hungarian instruments determining policy were the National Programme On Disability Issues, the Medium-Term Action Plan and the Attitude Orientation Plan, which all relied on basic values and provisions of the Convention. Hungary had focused on practical steps which could be taken in a short period of time and had managed to improve the daily lives of persons with disabilities. The country was proud to have elected the first Member of the European Parliament with a hearing disability and to count among its Members of Parliament two persons who had a hearing impairment.
Hungary was undergoing major changes at the time of the first report, which meant that the report was a major trial for the country. At the same time, it also created an important basis for planning future policies and actions. In the Communist era it was common practice to provide massive residential facilities in the outskirts of cities to house large numbers of persons with disabilities. The past two decades had seen major changes in that respect. There were three levels of provisions: community-based living for persons with disabilities, group homes for 10 to 12 persons and residential facilities for those who required highly specialized services. Since September 2011 the transportation system of the country had been transformed to facilitate its use by persons with disabilities. In addition, a new Act, introduced in 2011, had transformed the employment rehabilitation system for persons with reduced capacity to work, while incentives were offered to employers to employ such persons.
Hungary had devised its own action plan but, at the same time, as a Member State of the European Union, it had to keep in mind the European Union’s Strategy on Disability, which primarily focused on equal opportunities. The Hungarian Government had committed substantial funds to achieving its objectives. A comprehensive revision of the Disability Act had started this year. One of the most important tasks for the following year would be to prepare a new Disability Programme for 2013 to 2019. The Convention was not a final list of tasks to be carried out but, rather, a set of guidelines which would guide the efforts made by States parties. It was therefore important to incorporate the spirit of the Convention into national policy. With that in mind, the Hungarian delegation had come to Geneva prepared for a constructive dialogue.
Questions from the Experts
DAMJAN TATIC, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Hungary, commended the State party on having taken a number of very important steps to improve the living conditions of persons with disabilities. He recognized that incorporating the provisions of the Convention in domestic law was an ongoing process that took place over time. He hoped that Hungary would address the issue of its healthcare law and the law on the protection of the life of people in relation to persons with disabilities. He was pleased to see that Hungarian legislation had set deadlines for the removal of barriers of accessibility and he was looking forward to hearing how the Government intended to meet those deadlines, which were drawing near.
The Rapporteur was pleased to hear about Hungary’s plans for the de-institutionalization of persons who had been deprived of their legal capacity under guardianship, many of whom were kept in various institutions, and stressed that it was important to provide support services that would enable persons with disabilities to live in their respective communities, in full compliance with the Convention. The issues of the education for children with disabilities, the protection of women from violence and restrictive voting rights would be discussed during the interactive dialogue.
An Expert congratulated Hungary on the commitment it had showed in tackling issues facing persons with disabilities. She asked what mechanisms were being used by the State party to ensure effective participation by civil society in the analysis, planning, and implementation of the Convention. More specifically, she wanted to know more about the participation in the process of organizations representing directly persons with disabilities. She also requested more information on the National Inclusion strategy which was based primarily on the five groups most exposed to discrimination, namely those living in extreme poverty, Roma, children, women and disabled persons. What were the exact measures being implemented to help Roma persons with disabilities and how were they mainstreamed into the national strategy?
Another Expert said that in his opening remarks the Head of Delegation had given the impression that the Convention was a set of guidelines, adherence to which was optional, which was not, in fact, accurate. Was any research being carried out on the discrepancy between the current situation of persons with disabilities in Hungary and the situation which was desirable according to the provisions of the Convention?
The Expert also pointed out that the use by the Government of the term “healthy children in schools” contributed to stigmatizing children with disabilities and was based on the medical model. He expressed concern at reports that Roma persons had been labelled in Hungary and were being sent to special institutions offering education of inferior quality. What was the delegation’s reaction to those reports? The high number of Roma children in special education schools meant that either Roma children did not have adequate access to mainstream education or that they were systematically misdiagnosed as children with disabilities. Could the delegation comment on that? Furthermore, did the Government have a special strategy designed specifically for children with disabilities, whose treatment appeared to be highly unfair in Hungary?
It was worrying to note the absence of representatives of the Hungarian disability movement at the current session, and Expert said. Furthermore, he wanted to know whether Hungary had any legislation in place prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of disability and ensuring that all persons with disabilities were fully protected against discrimination. What measures were being taken in Hungary to secure the implementation of legislation aiming at breaking down communicative barriers in the physical environment of persons with disabilities?
Hungary, like Spain, had been a leader in implementing the Convention, an Expert noted, and asked what was the rationale behind Hungary’s actions in relation to the institutionalization of children with disabilities and of persons with psychosocial disabilities. What was the Government doing to protect those groups? Persons with psychosocial disabilities had to be included in the definition of persons with disabilities so that they, too, would be protected by the discrimination law.
How was Hungary’s equal opportunities policy being translated into practical action benefiting women and girls? Were there any action programmes targeting persons with disabilities, and in particular was there a national action plan to prevent violence against women with disabilities?
What was being done to improve accessibility, in particular to help persons with disabilities in air travel? What was being done in terms of raising awareness about the Convention and were any relevant educative programmes in place, an Expert asked. Was there a culture of human rights in Hungary that could facilitate the implementation of the Convention and what was being done in that respect?
An Expert requested more information on the law of abortion. He said that while he recognized that examination of a country’s abortion laws was not necessarily relevant to the work of the Committee, nevertheless Hungary’s report gave the impression that a foetus suspected of having a disability was treated differently.
Hungary’s report contained no clear definition of disability, an Expert said. What were the criteria used to establish that somebody was disabled? He also pointed out that the report showed little intent in involving non-governmental organizations on disability in its drafting. Concerning Article 4, to what extent were civil society representatives of persons with disabilities being consistently consulted? Could the delegation provide concrete data on how Hungary was meeting the deadline set by Hungarian legislation for the removal of accessibility barriers in various fields.
Response by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation said that Hungary took the Convention very seriously and had every intention of implementing it. The protection of the rights of people, including persons with disabilities, had been elevated to the highest level on the Government’s agenda.
Regarding involvement with civil society organizations, a delegate confirmed that representatives of the community of persons with disabilities received a special budget from the Government which they could spend any way they saw fit, including financing the activities of non-governmental organizations. The Government also supported a number of other national associations of persons with disabilities, such as the National Association of Autistic Persons. Civil society organizations were very much part of the process of resolving issues which were of concern to persons with disabilities. Raising awareness among young persons was achieved through a number of programmes in secondary schools. As part of that initiative, several hundred Hungarian schools would be reviewed by Experts who played a leading role in the area of disabilities.
The Deputy Prime Minister recently announced that full attention would be paid to accessibility in the field of information technology and also in terms of physical obstacles for persons with disabilities. It was the Government’s intention to increase accessibility not only of the physical but also of the electronic environment of persons with disabilities. The task was complex and was closely linked to awareness-raising activities, which were currently being undertaken.
Act 26 on persons with disabilities had established a 27-member body which provided consultation and put proposals to the Government. Its role was primarily to promote, control and monitor the implementation of the Convention but it also had the right to refer for legal action cases of violations of the rights of persons with disabilities. In addition, the Council, which was an autonomous body, had the right to make proposals on legislation and the amendment of laws. Civil society representatives participated in that body as well as other organizations representing the rights of persons with disabilities. Also participating in the Council were high-level governmental officials who represented different areas of disability issues. The proposals of the Council were taken seriously into account by the Government.
Regarding the definition of persons with psychosocial disabilities, the delegation said that there was a Government decree working on the definition of disability.
Regarding the question about the Government meeting the deadlines set by law, the delegation explained that in public services and public transport there were different deadlines stipulated by law. Most deadlines had been set for 2013.
Concerning the issue of gathering statistical data, the Government was taking action to ensure that precise data on accessibility of institutions in Hungary would become available. It was the Government’s aim to make websites providing information about public services fully accessible to persons with all forms of disabilities. The delegation recognized that the process of improving accessibility, especially accessibility in construction, was slow. Nevertheless, the Government was working on that issue and, among other things, it was promoting the training of professionals working in the construction industry.
The Equal Treatment Act, which had been adopted in 2003, prohibited not only active and passive forms of inequality and disqualification but also segregation. That demonstrated that there was legislation in place to ensure the prohibition of discrimination. Regarding the question on domestic violence, the delegation explained that the Criminal Code, which would come into effect in 2013, would provide a new category for domestic violence.
When Hungary joined the European Union it made a commitment to tackle the Roma issue. However, each State was responsible for adopting its own strategy in that respect. The main areas of the Hungarian strategy were education policy, regional development, health care, and employment policy. The delegation stressed that their equal opportunity policy extended to Roma children in education. As for education for children with disabilities in general, a substantial amount of funds had been given to a variety of educational programmes aiming to promote inclusive education.
The Strategy “Improved Life of Children” had as its aim drastically to reduce poverty among children and among families with children, to eliminate child poverty, and to promote institutions that sought to eradicate poverty.
Follow-up Questions from Experts
Returning to the lack of statistical figures on children with disabilities, an Expert noted that the recommendations about the lack of strategy to include children with disabilities in the education system did not seem to have been taken into account. Had any progress been made in the implementation of the recommendations which had been made in relation to children with disabilities? Were there any measures being taken to protect children and women against violence?
Another Expert, following up on the issue of the reform of the Criminal Code, asked whether persons with disabilities who were subject to guardianship were deprived of legal capacity. Also, what was Hungary doing to eliminate the cruel or degrading treatment of persons in penal and psychiatric institutions who were subjected to forced labour or lived in isolation, and what was being done to follow the recommendations that had been made to Hungary in that respect in 2010?
Another Expert remained concerned that the Government did not recognize non-traditional places of detention such as psychiatric or social care institutions and emergency rooms or psychiatric wards of general hospitals as detention places and asked for the delegation’s views on that matter.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that it was unable to provide specific figures relating to Roma children in education because the Hungarian Data Protection Act prohibited the release of data based on ethnic background. Nevertheless, more than half of Roma children participated in specialized education forums. In addition, the Government had recently introduced a system whereby independent experts examined children who attended special schools and reviewed their original assessment of those children as persons with disabilities. If they came to the conclusion that the original assessment had been flawed then the children concerned were re-integrated in the mainstream educational system.
Regarding the question about the definition of disability in Hungarian law, the Government had made a number of efforts in order to include a clear definition of the term in domestic legislation. The terminology used in Hungarian law was currently under review and would be finalized by the end of 2012.
Hungary protected citizens who were subjected to domestic violence and to that end it had put in place national and regional networks, shelter homes, hotlines, and various other measures. It had also set up also crisis homes for people subjected to domestic violence whose problems could not be resolved in the local community and their protection in their home environment could no longer be guaranteed. There were no special sanctions for crimes committed against persons with disabilities. However, according to an amendment to existing legislation which had been introduced this year, crimes against persons with disabilities were deemed to be particularly serious and as such they would incur more severe penalties.
Regarding rehabilitation, several developments were underway in Hungary including medical rehabilitation and the rehabilitation of children who had been subjected to domestic violence. Those new programmes were partly funded by a Norwegian fund. Special attention was paid to children who had special disabilities or suffered from a special disease. Further development in infrastructure and collaboration with the professional protocols was needed in order to improve the condition of those children or to slow down the progress of their disease.
Improving access to transportation-related services was on the agenda of the Government and in recent years public transportation had been adapted to become more accessible to persons with disabilities. In addition, accessibility had been taken into consideration in the design of the Budapest metro, which was nearing completion. As for air travel, that was regulated by the European Union and did not fall under public transportation.
Regarding abortion, the relevant law stipulated that it was only possible to have abortion for severe health reasons, such as severe disability or health impairment or a crisis situation affecting the mother, up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. Having an abortion was allowed up to week 20 of pregnancy only if the foetus was severely impaired and proper medical justification was provided. The Government’s primary goal was to place emphasis on family planning and assist families by providing advice on protection against unwanted pregnancy. The delegation stressed that there was an extensive network of health promotion and protection in Hungary.
There were specific regulations in place relating to the preparation of the population for the eventuality of natural and man-caused disasters. Promoting prevention and preparation were of the utmost importance to the Government. Construction licences issued by fire protection authorities required that specific rules and regulations be respected, while the preparation of disaster management personnel was an ongoing priority. Local fire brigades had regular drills in the course of which they familiarized themselves with the specific needs of local communities, including the needs of persons with disabilities, and also co-operated with local voluntary fire-fighters.
Capacity and incapacity to act were seen in an entirely new light under the amended Civil Code, which included new regulations. The new Code would provide for partial and full incapacity or limitation of capacity in certain cases where it was decided by the courts that that was an appropriate course of action. Regarding the issue of guardianship, the delegation explained that a “support person” was appointed by the local guardianship authority in agreement with the competent judicial authority in order to assist the person under guardianship.
The delegation said that the review of the Act on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was underway and that the process involved addressing the issue of the definition of the terms “disability” and “person with disabilities”. Furthermore, Hungary gave the opportunity to members of the public to take part in regular meetings where they could voice concerns and submit their views and proposals on those and other relevant matters. The views of non-governmental organizations were taken into consideration by the Government and were incorporated in its national strategy.
There were 23 treatment centres for persons with psychosocial disabilities in the country. Abuse and inhumane treatment in psychosocial and welfare institutions were subject to an examination and investigation, and sanctions applied. There was no torture or inhumane treatment of detainees in the Hungarian prison system and no inmate was subjected to forbidden or illegal medical treatment or investigation.
Questions from the Experts
Had information from the 2012 census been processed, and what percentage of men and women with disabilities were on the labour market, an Expert asked. What had Hungary done to facilitate the employment of persons with disabilities in the public sector? What efforts had been made to enhance career prospects for persons with disabilities moving from low-skilled to higher-skilled jobs?
Hungary was complimented on the legislative amendments it had carried out, especially on the right to guardianship, and asked under what circumstances persons could be deprived of their right to vote. Also, there was still no mechanism or independent body monitoring the fulfilment of the terms of the Convention.
Hungary’s mental health practices and their rehabilitation programmes did not seem to be in line with the Convention. Was there a clear understanding about the shift from the medical approach so that persons with psychosocial disabilities were not regarded as “sick” and they would have their will and autonomy respected? Were experts being engaged in the process of amending Hungarian legislation to ensure that legislation was aligned with the Convention? Regarding persons with psychosocial disabilities placed in institutions, an Expert said that the institutions where such persons were placed should be reviewed because there, too, the medical approach appeared to be prevalent. Where there any forms of medical treatment or isolation of persons with disabilities in special institutions which could be considered as inhumane treatment or torture?
The recognition of domestic violence as an important issue which required a legal framework to protect victims was welcomed. The Expert noted, however, that there was no specific mechanism in place to protect children and women with disabilities. What measures had been taken by Hungary to prohibit the forced sterilization of persons with disabilities, and what criteria were used for such medical sterilization? Was there a record of persons who had been given medical sterilization? What was the State doing to help parents with disabilities keep their children? Did mothers with disabilities have the right to keep their children or was separation a common phenomenon?
An Expert asked for additional information on the reasonable accommodation that was being provided to children with disabilities in mainstream education in light of the delegation’s admission that reasonable accommodation was a relatively new concept in Hungary. Regarding independent living, a question was asked about the exact meaning of the term “permanent boarding” for persons with disabilities, which the delegation had employed. How did the Government understand the principle of reasonable accommodation, which should be distinguished from providing special education facilities?
What sort of assistance was provided to blind and visually impaired children who wished to go to mainstream schools rather than special schools? Was there any representation of persons with disabilities in the legislative process in Hungary? Did non-governmental organizations have the opportunity to take part in the legislative process and, if so, how was that achieved?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the new buses mentioned earlier in the dialogue could only be purchased if they met strict accessibility requirements, and that accessibility information about accessible public transport was made available to passengers. Regarding air travel, the delegation clarified that there was specific European regulation on the matter and that in Hungary there were no domestic flights and only international airlines were in operation.
The Government firmly believed that every person living with long-term disabilities should live at home, and to that end the social system provided primary and specialized care to persons with disabilities who wished to continue to live at home. Parents raising children with disabilities were offered assistance in the form of special disability benefits and other special services. Regarding the question about reasonable accommodation, the delegation said that priority was given to measures which utilized local resources and were not a significant burden on parents.
Professional organizations and organizations of special patient groups were involved in the review and reworking of protocols relating to psychosocial persons, and the Government tried to develop a uniform system which did not make a distinction between patients and persons with psychosocial disabilities. In the Hungarian prison service special emphasis was placed on the selection and training of wardens so ensure that the selection process followed European standards.
Regarding the medical protocol on sterilization, Hungarian law prohibited forced sterilization and there were strict measures to provide equal treatment to incapacitated persons and persons with low disabilities. The delegation stressed that sterilization was only possible after a relevant court decision and there was no possibility for the sterilization of persons with disabilities.
In response to the questions about special needs education, the delegation pointed out that the Hungarian Act on Public Education created equal opportunities for inclusive education and for special needs education, which was being integrated into mainstream schools. Specific programmes had been launched to transform special needs schools into knowledge-based special educational needs centres whose aim was to provide knowledge and experience to integrative mainstream schools. The best interests of the children were always taken into account. When applying to schools and universities, students had the right to register as students with disabilities and request access to all the facilities granted by law. For example, children with a visual impairment could request access to computers with a large font format. In certain cases children had decided to return to special educational facilities because they found that they were making more progress there than in mainstream schools.
In Hungary there were 80,000 children who had special educational needs and were aged between preschool age and 18 years old; 6,658 children attended special educational needs facilities, which was less than 20 per cent of the total amount of children with special educational needs. The Ministry for Social Inclusion deemed it very important to provide educational programmes for children with disabilities and applied the principle of full curriculum and programmes ranging from the earliest years up to adulthood. Hungarian schools had provisions for free-of-charge individual training and education for children with disabilities, wherever needed.
The new Civil Code and Labour Code were in the process of regulating the issue of labour contracts for persons under guardianship. Regarding the employment of persons with disabilities in the public sector, the Act on Higher Education made provisions for training students with disabilities, including in Higher Education institutions which had to meet appropriate standards in order to cater for the specific needs of students with disabilities. The entry of students with disabilities into Higher Education institutions was facilitated.
Turning to labour and work, the delegation said that 8,000 persons were in rehabilitation employment, 15,000 persons received special benefits, and 20,000 persons received cost compensation. The Government was trying to establish a network of labour market institutions. Persons with disabilities usually worked in low-skilled jobs. To remedy the problem, the Government provided substantial incentives to employers to encourage them to employ persons with disabilities.
In addition to sign language, in Hungary there were many institutions which provided assistance and support to persons with disabilities in all areas of life. The Government worked hard to help those institutions provide assistance in a timely fashion. As part of the Government’s rehabilitation scheme medical devices and supportive aids were also provided to persons with disabilities. The delegation stressed that only in exceptional cases it was possible to limit the right to vote of persons with psychosocial disabilities and that could only be done with a relevant court decree.
MIKLOS SOLTESZ, Minister for Social, Family and Youth Affairs, thanked the Committee and said that their questions showed that the Committee’s expectations of Hungary were very high, which confirmed that the issues of persons with disabilities were extremely important to the Committee, as they were to Hungary. Any gaps which had been identified in Hungary’s implementation of the Convention would be addressed by the Government.
DAMJAN TATIC, Committee Member acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Hungary, applauded the willingness of the delegation to continue its cooperation with the Committee and expressed satisfaction with the detailed responses and concrete figures which the delegation had provided to the questions. He hoped that the interactive dialogue would help Hungary to harmonize further its national legislation with the Convention and would prompt the country to reflect on the thirty-year period during which its deinstitutionalization goals would be achieved. He was satisfied that there had been clear signs from the delegation that Hungary did apply reasonable accommodation.
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