GENEVA, Switzerland, February 28, 2018/ — The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of the Seychelles on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Introducing the report, Jeanne Simeon, Minister for Family Affairs of the Seychelles, said that following the ratification of the Convention in 2009, the Seychelles was actively spreading its messages and raising awareness, including among the children as a way to place accent on embracing diversity from an early age. The 2010 census had included persons with disabilities as a separate category for the first time. The Policy on Inclusion and Action Plan on Inclusive Education, and the National Employment Policy were in place. Efforts were being made to use universal design in the construction of new public buildings, despite the delay in the review of the Town and Country Planning Act. Persons with disabilities continued to face obstacles to the full enjoyment of their rights and the biggest challenge was dealing with negative mind-sets: of non-disabled persons, who continued to view persons with disabilities as needing protection, but also of persons with disabilities themselves, who remained in the margins of society, overpowered by ideas that they ‘cannot and therefore do not’. The Government was fully cognizant that the ratification alone was not enough and that the Convention should guide actions at every level to deliver the transformation that it hailed, concluded Ms. Simeon.
In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts commended the adoption of the policy on inclusive education and the Washington Group Short Set of Disability Questions, and went on to highlight the main areas of concern, including the fact that the parliamentary act of ratification, which would ensure domestication of the Convention, had not yet been adopted. The delegation was asked about steps taken to align the definition of disability with article 1 of the Convention and to harmonize the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms with the human rights-based approach to disability. Experts were worried about the lack of a systematic approach to the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the formulation and implementation of policies that would transform their rights. The Seychelles still maintained the guardianship system under the Civil Code and limited legal capacity of persons with disabilities. The Criminal Code allowed the detention of persons who may be ‘of unsound mind’, while parental rights could be withdrawn from persons deemed to fall into this category. The failure to amend or repeal the Town and Country Planning Act was an important obstacle to the right of persons with disabilities to access services, goods, and information and communication technologies.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Simeon reiterated the commitment to address the gaps in the area of accessibility, the legal and policy frameworks, and education and inclusivity, and to continue the efforts to foster non-discrimination at all levels in a coordinated and holistic manner and with the full participation of persons with disabilities.
Coomaravel Pyaneandee, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, concluded with a recognition of the prominent role of the Seychelles in advancing women’s rights, and urged the country to do the same in the context of disability and ensure that persons with disabilities were represented at all levels.
The delegation of the Seychelles was composed of representatives of the Ministry for Family Affairs and the National Council for the Disabled, as well as the Permanent Mission of the Seychelles to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 27 February to start the review of the initial report of the Russian Federation (CRPD/C/RUS/1).
The report of the Seychelles can be read via the following link: CRPD/C/SYC/1.
Presentation of the Report
JEANNE SIMEON, Minister for Family Affairs of the Seychelles, said that following the ratification of the Convention in 2009, the Government had started with a programme of awareness raising and education, spreading the messages of the Convention widely. Its articles had been translated into Creole and developed into child friendly materials to place accent on embracing diversity from an early age. Persons with disabilities were specifically targeted to ensure they were aware of their own rights, and to take lead in advocacy efforts. The 2010 national census had included persons with disabilities as a category for the first time; its results indicated that three per cent of the population had a disability. The Seychelles had free primary healthcare and the Government was working on improving access to health for persons with disabilities. Money had been allocated to prevention programmes, and substantial progress had been made in the promotion of early childhood years as evidenced by the launch of the Seychelles Early Child Care and Education Framework in 2013. The Institute of Early Childhood Development, a part of this Framework, had been established to coordinate activities within this sector.
The Minister went on to highlight the first Policy on Inclusion and Action Plan on Inclusive Education, and the National Employment Policy, and mentioned the success that persons with disabilities enjoyed within the realm of sport at the international level. The Seychelles continued to work with non-governmental organizations, for example the partnership between the Ministry of Education and the Association of Hearing Impairment had led to the establishment of a School for the Deaf and the development of a curriculum in the Seychellois sign language. More recently, the Government had entered into an agreement with Autism Seychelles and Autisme Réunion, which had led to the training of 179 teachers and school leaders and 105 health professionals in understanding children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Ms. Simeon then turned to the question of accessibility, noting that efforts had been made to use universal design in the construction of new public buildings, despite the delay in the review of the Town and Country Planning Act. Persons with disabilities continued to face obstacles to the full enjoyment of their rights and the biggest challenge was dealing with negative mind-sets; both those of non-disabled persons, who continued to view persons with disabilities as needing protection, but also of persons with disabilities themselves, who remained in the margins of society, overpowered by ideas that they ‘cannot and therefore do not’. An increasingly aging population would lead to an increase in the number of people with disabilities in the Seychelles; the Government would need to ensure availability of services in line with the Convention and to cater to the transformation that the Convention hailed. Ratification alone was not enough, rather it should guide actions at every level, concluded the Minister.
Questions by the Country Rapporteur
COOMARAVEL PYANEANDEE, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Seychelles, took positive note of the great progress the Seychelles had made in opening its economy to the world and signing and ratifying human rights treaties. The Rapporteur commended the adoption of the policy on inclusive education, and the adoption in 2010 of the Washington Group Short Set of Disability Questions, and went on to express regret that, despite the numerous efforts, the Committee had not succeeded in having a meaningful dialogue with civil society organisations. Mr. Pyaneandee went on to highlight main areas of concern in the Seychelles, including the fact that since the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a parliamentary act of ratification to ensure its domestication, had not yet been adopted.
More worryingly, there was a very low level of participation of persons with disabilities in both the formulation and implementation of policy, which meant that persons with disabilities could not have a fair and equitable enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, or civil and political rights. The Country Rapporteur also noted that there was still no outcome to the review of the Civil Code, which was important in the context of legal capacity of persons with disabilities, and raised concern about the failure to amend or repeal the Town and Country Planning Act, which did not provide for access of persons with disabilities to services, goods, and information and communication technologies. Within the realm of employment, the non-adoption of legislation was a serious concern, as it led the Committee to believe that discrimination in all its forms still prevailed in the Seychelles.
Questions by Committee Experts
With regards to the National Plan of Action on Disability, Committee Experts asked which Ministry was responsible for its implementation, and whether persons with disabilities and their representative organizations had been included in the formulation of the Plan. Would the National Council on Disability play a role in the implementation? The delegation was asked to provide some positive examples of the implementation of the Plan, particularly in the domain of legal rights, accessibility, employment and access to health and education.
An Expert remarked that there was no systematic approach to facilitate participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the formulation of policies that would transform their rights. What financial support was being provided to nurture the growth of representative organizations?
The delegation was also asked to inform of measures taken to ensure that the definition of disability conformed to the definition contained in article 1 of the Convention, and also to explain what was being done to harmonize the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms with the human rights-based approach to disability.
What specific political and legal remedies had been adopted to protect persons with disabilities who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex?
Concerning the situation of women and girls with disabilities, Experts asked about measures to protect them from all forms of discrimination and violence including sexual violence, how many were in the institutions, what was being done to increase the knowledge among women with disabilities of their rights and in particular their sexual and reproductive rights, and about the possibilities to report gender and disability-based discrimination. What was being done to change the negative social attitudes towards children with disabilities?
Was a sign language available for the public, and were there any courses on universal design apart from the compulsory modules in architect training? What sanctions were meted out to those who failed to comply with accessibility standards? How accessible was the country to visitors and tourists with disabilities?
How were media involved in disseminating information which portrayed positive picture of disability?
Experts were surprised that, according to the 2010 census, only three per cent of the population had a disability, while global-levels estimates put the proportion of persons with disabilities to over ten per cent. In this context, they wondered about the definition of disability, as well as the functioning of the disability-determination mechanism including the criteria for obtaining disability status.
Experts asked about specific laws that prohibited discrimination on the grounds of disability, and the plans to amend the legislation to ensure that such discrimination was prohibited in all areas. Did the law recognize denial of reasonable accommodation as a form of discrimination, and if not, what measures would be taken to ensure its recognition?
Corporal punishment of children was unlawful, but it was not prohibited in homes, schools, penal institutions, and alternative care settings, Experts remarked and expressed concern about particular vulnerability of children with disabilities to corporal punishment. What steps had been taken to ensure that the legislation fully protected all children including children with disabilities from punishment, and to prohibit “reasonable chastisement”?
Responses by the Delegation
Responding to the questions raised by the Committee Experts, a delegate said that corporal punishment had been prohibited in educational settings; the Government was working to repeal sections of the Children’s Act dealing with this issue, and it was expected that a law would be passed by the end of the year.
Efforts were being made to improve accessibility of schools, hospitals and government offices. When a new school was built, for example, the planning authority would consult with the Committee for Disabled Persons for their guidance as well as with the National Council for Disability. This was despite the fact that the Town and Country Planning Act was yet to be repealed. The same applied within the tourism sector, with most new hotels having disability friendly access and rooms. Since the ratification of the Convention, tourist resorts had recognised accessibility as a major concern and the Ministry of Tourism was also directly engaged in this. The delegate conceded that more work needed to be done with smaller establishments.
There was an ambulift to facilitate access to airplane for wheelchair users. The Seychelles was importing at least five disability-friendly buses, one of which would be available for each region of the island. A system of ‘stoplights’ for deaf persons along with an oral system for blind and partially sighted persons was being tried out, and monitored by the transport body in the country.
There had been delay in the finalisation of the Town and Country Planning Act but it should be ready by June 2018. At the current time, there was nothing binding in place in terms of accessibility for persons with disabilities, but a policy was being implemented with the Planning Authority, which was used to advise developers.
In response to questions on the participation of persons with disabilities in matters of policy and implementation, the delegation noted that the National Council on Disability was the channel through which the voices of persons with disabilities were heard.
With regard to concerns raised about violence against women and girls with disabilities, a delegate said that the Seychelles is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which included provisions for the women with disabilities. Moreover, Department for Family Affairs was continuing its Orange Day campaign, while victims of domestic violence were protected by the Seychelles Family Violence (Protection of Victims) Act, 2000. The Government had recently conducted a survey on domestic violence and the Cabinet of Ministers was in the process of formulating an action plan based on the findings, which would give special consideration to women with disabilities. The Family Violence Act allowed for victims to apply to the court free of charge.
With regard to questions on the guaranteeing of dignity for persons with disabilities, the delegation explained that Article 16 of the Constitution stated that every person had the right to dignity and so provided protection and fulfilled international law.
The delegation acknowledged that the review of the Civil Code was taking time, which was
partially due to the fact that the Code was being reviewed in its entirety. A White Paper had been drafted on the proposed amendments.
In answer to questions on ‘reasonable provision’ for persons with disabilities, a delegate gave the example of the Social Security Act, which had been amended so that persons with disabilities would no longer lose their financial benefits should they find employment.
Addressing the issue of the domestication of conventions, the delegate said that to date the approach had been to adopt conventions into specific laws, and admitted that in the case of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, this had not been declared. Domestication of the Convention needed to be addressed and at a faster pace, recognized the delegate.
With regard to universal design, she said that while there was a university teaching architecture in the Seychelles it did not yet have these specific courses. As a partial remedy, scholarships were available to students to study this area in other countries, such as the United Kingdom.
Concerning the representation of persons with disabilities at the policy level, the delegation said that persons with disabilities formed large part of the National Council on Disability’s board of directors, either directly or indirectly. There was no one on the board yet who was intellectually disabled, but they were represented by an non-governmental organization. The National Council on Disability was reviewing its strategic plan for next three years, and it envisaged going beyond being an advocacy body to being more actively involved as a policy regulator.
Persons with disabilities had to be medically assessed in order to receive state benefits. A more function-based assessment of disability was being developed in line with the guidelines laid out by the World Health Organization, but finding practitioners capable of carrying out this type of assessment was difficult given the limited human resources in the Seychelles.
The National Action Plan on Disability had been finalised but because some important actors were missing, the process was continuing it remained as a living document.
The National Human Rights Action Plan had tried to ensure that data was collected on vulnerable groups, but the primary source had been occasional surveys which had not been carried out as often as needed. Since 2010, however, persons with disabilities were included in the national census, the next which would be in 2020. The National Council on Disability was also planning a survey to gather better information. The delegation explained that the low percentage of persons with disabilities in the general population was also because of free and universal access to primary health care.
There were no data available on cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities that had gone to court or to the employment tribunal. The court was a new building and therefore fully accessible, but the Seychelles realised that more efforts were required to make the courts more understood as a place of redress for persons with disabilities.
A lot of effort had been made to raise awareness; the media were being actively used to pass the messages and there were television programs which actively portrayed the role that persons with disabilities could play in society.
Questions by Committee Experts
In the next round of questions, Committee Experts asked about measures to empower persons with disabilities to participate in the justice system, to provide access to justice to them more readily, and to encourage the participation of people with disabilities in the justice system including as jurors.
The delegation was asked whether sign language interpretation was being provided in courts and in the police, and if the new court was accessible to persons hard of hearing who did not use sign language. What were the qualifications and training of sign language interpreters and how many there were?
In terms of legal capacity of persons with disabilities, Experts inquired about initiatives to replace the current guardianship system under the Civil Code with supported decision making, and how persons with disabilities were being supported in making decisions in financial matters for example in inheritance. The Criminal Code allowed the detention of persons who may be ‘of unsound mind’, they noted and raised concerns about the withdrawal of parental rights by the State from persons deemed to fall into this category.
Were persons with disabilities being discriminated against in immigration legislation, which asked whether applicants were ‘mentally disordered or physically affected’?
Experts continued to express concern at the steps being taken to ensure that persons with disabilities were not subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including corporal punishment. To which extent did the 2006 Mental Health Act protect people with disabilities against forced sterilization?
Raising concern about vulnerability of persons with disabilities to violence, Experts asked for a list of specific articles in the national strategy for domestic violence, which directly targeted the rights of women and girls with disabilities. Were there accessible hotlines available for people with disabilities to report abuse, and specifically, was there a mechanism for women and girls with disabilities to report exploitation?
Further questions on accessibility related to the accessibility of boats, given the geography of the Seychelles, and custom regulations on mobility equipment.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the action plan on domestic violence had taken place during the 2008 to 2011 period, and that a survey on gender-based violence and emerging challenges had been carried out. Based on the survey and the review of the action plan on domestic violence, new five-years plan was being developed. Previous action plans marginalized persons with disabilities to some degree but there would be more focus on this category of persons in the new action plan. The delegation acknowledged that victims of gender-based violence with disabilities had particular needs when reporting abuse. A shelter for victims of domestic violence was well under way; land had been procured and the Government were now seeking a partnership with the private sector for the construction. The shelter would be built taking into consideration the needs of victims with disabilities.
On the question of marriage, she said that the Civil Code sets the necessary provisions, such as age, sex and necessary consent. Essentially, as long as persons with disabilities were able to consent, they had the right to marry.
The Seychelles was currently reviewing the Mental Health Act and the Civil Code, with an assistance of an international expert. A Mental Health Advisory Committee had been set up to facilitate the process, with the involvement of the office of the Attorney General. Persons with disabilities had been involved in the consultation process, as had their parents and other representatives.
The new bill would make provision for the setting up of a Mental Health Board, and a Tribunal, which would have several functions, such as overseeing the management of mental health issues. The bill was focussed on ensuring that all persons with disabilities could make decisions regarding their own treatment, unless they were not able to understand the information enabling them to make such a decision or understand the consequences. Furthermore, the State would be obliged to provide appropriate tools for persons with disabilities to make their choices. The bill allowed for involuntary hospitalization of a persons with disabilities for a period of fourteen days, but it also provided for an application to be made to the Tribunal for an extension.
As for persons with disabilities living in institutions, there were 18 women and 21 men. They were in this situation as their families did not wish to look after them and so the State had no other option but to keep them there.
In the context of disaster preparedness, a survey had been commissioned to identify the type of risk persons with disabilities found themselves in related to where they lived and worked, and to understand the degree of knowledge persons with disabilities had regarding disasters. The survey concluded that while the majority of respondents with disabilities clearly saw the point of being involved in planning for disasters, a significant minority said they were unwilling to participate. The early warning system was available in sign language and was shown on state television.
The Domiciliary Care Scheme aimed to ensure that persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, could stay in their own homes as far as possible. The scheme provided help with daily chores, hygiene and mobility. The full package could provide up to 24 hours care a day, seven days a week. Applicants for the scheme would be means tested, with the poorest receiving the assistance entirely free of charge. The scheme was currently being reformed so that a more professional service could be provided. Home carers were being specially trained to understand the needs of persons with disabilities.
The Seychelles provided full tax relief on wheelchairs, while for other mobility aids, tax exemption was partial, as value-added tax and environmental tax would be charged. There were three main islands in the Seychelles and two modes of transportation, plane and ferry. For those using wheelchairs, flying was more difficult as these were small planes with steep steps. Much work had been done with the ferries to make them more adaptable and accessible for persons with disabilities, with the provision of ramps and specially equipped rooms on board.
Going on to concerns regarding corporal punishment, another delegate stated that the Children’s Act was being modernised and would be aligned with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The interest of the child was paramount in the Act and this best interest principle was applicable to decisions regarding the removal of children from their parents. Any removal would be a last resort and not based on the disability of their parents.
On the question of sign language interpreters, the Association of Persons with Hearing Impairment had played a leading role, both advocating for the deaf and working alongside the Government. Sign language was to become one of the national languages of the country and there was now a dictionary of the Seychellois form. Four sign language interpreters had been trained with the support of the European Union and were specialised to work in legal institutions and settings. The interpreters were now functioning under their own association, monitored by oversight committee comprising a lawyer, a deaf person and a member of the association itself. However, there was still work to be done in terms of captioning in the courts, the delegate conceded.
There were several hotlines in the Seychelles, including for children, people in mental distress and people suffering from domestic violence, but these were not available for persons with all types of disability and more work needed to be done to make them accessible.
Answering the question on the participation of persons with disabilities in the legal process, the delegate said that jurors were selected randomly so it would not be known whether the person had a disability or not.
In terms of economic independence and the role of the school education in this context, the delegation explained that persons with disabilities did learn some skills to help them in their daily lives, including with their finances. The National Council for the Disabled provided trainees with life skills and career guidance. To further enable persons with disabilities to become financially independent, the Social Security Act had been amended so that they could keep their benefits even if they gained employment. Other ways in which the State attempted to provide for the economic rights of persons with disabilities was in the promotion of cottage industries and access to grants and loans to facilitate self-employment.
Questions by Committee Experts
Committee Experts inquired about the plans to provide public information in Braille and other accessible formats, the legal status of sign language and Braille, whether students with disabilities had full access to all types of learning aids to enable their participation in mainstream schools, and the care and provisions for autistic students. Was there a timeframe for the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled?
Further questions were again raised on the level of participation of persons with disabilities in matters of policy and planning, such as whether there were concrete measures to include them in the monitoring of the Convention.
Thanking the delegation for its ‘sincere approach’, one Expert recognised that the Seychelles was one of the few States that included challenges within its reporting, which he deemed an example of good practice. He then went on to ask whether measures were being taken to assure access to tertiary education for students with disabilities. Other Experts questioned the availability of information and communication technology equipment in schools, specifically for students with disabilities, and asked the delegation to provide concrete examples on financial initiatives for persons with disabilities.
Another Expert noted that although persons with disabilities were recognised as vulnerable with regard to sexual and reproductive health, there were no specific programs for them. The delegation was asked about intentions concerning the adoption of a national plan on healthcare of persons with disabilities, accessibility to healthcare facilities and the free provision of medicines to this group.
With regards to the participation of persons with disabilities in public life, the delegation was probed on the election of persons with disabilities to parliament, state programs to enable persons with disabilities to take part in cultural activities, and accessibility of polling stations and voting booths.
Experts took good note of the statement that 73 per cent of persons with disabilities were economically active, and asked how their wages compared with those of non-disabled persons. What support was available to persons with disabilities to move into full employment from sheltered employment?
An Expert remarked that the Seychelles intended to strengthen its National Human Rights Commission and asked when this would happen and whether the Commission would be endowed with investigative powers.
Replies by the Delegation
The National Council for Sport ran a rehabilitation programme for wheelchair users and once a month there were activities for persons with disabilities who wished to participate in sports. Disabled athletes had taken part both in the Indian Ocean Games in 2015 and the Rio Paralympics in 2016, bringing home a clutch of medals between them. The Paralympic Association of the Seychelles was affiliated with the International Olympic Committee, which had provided training its officers and sports coaches in Germany.
With regard to education, a delegate said that, as part of the inclusive education policy, a module on special educational needs was offered to all teachers. The autism training had been organized in 2017. Autistic students were assessed by a five-member team, comprising psychologists, educational experts, occupational therapists and a paediatric nurse. Most students with disabilities were educated in mainstream schools, with only 0.64 per cent in special schools (91 students). Some students transferred between the different schools either way.
The Seychelles was taking effort to ensure that health information was fully accessible and all new health structures used universal design. Assistive devices were available for free as far as was possible. There was a new policy on sexual and reproductive health under way, with more onus being given to persons with disabilities.
Polling stations were wheelchair accessible and persons with disabilities could be assisted by family members or other persons they trust in the booth. The only problem was with the ballot paper, which was not yet available in Braille. Currently, there was no persons with disabilities serving as Members of Parliament, but persons with disabilities were represented at a high level within the arts. The Government was fully engaged with the tourism industry and that the larger resorts and hotels both understood and met their obligations.
In terms of the economic independence of persons with disabilities, a delegate explained that the Seychelles was in the process of economic reform since 2008 under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund. While the country had improved economically, austerity measures had impacted negatively on certain sections of society, including persons with disabilities. A new Office for Poverty Alleviation was addressing the impact of austerity measures on vulnerable citizens. There were initiatives to promote small enterprise promotion and cottage industries, and different loans and grants, to which persons with disabilities were encouraged to apply.
JEANNE SIMEON, Minister for Family Affairs of the Seychelles, said that the points raised in this frank dialogue would enable the Seychelles to assess how far it complied with the Convention. The Seychelles would remain committed to ensuring that the right action was taken to address the gaps in the area of accessibility, in the legal and policy frameworks, education and inclusivity. Efforts to foster non-discrimination at all levels in a coordinated and holistic manner and with the full participation of persons with disabilities would continue. Perseverance in all these areas would mean that persons with disabilities should have the right environment to achieve their full potential in life.
COOMARAVEL PYANEANDEE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, recognised the prominent role the Seychelles played in advancing women’s rights. When it comes to disabilities, the Seychelles had to continue on same path and ensure that persons with disabilities were represented at all levels.