“Just the idea of grouping and separating people is already discriminating against the individual. My children need to live full life in a society that also belongs to us.”
Armine Avagyan, 44, who has two daughters with disabilities in her care, 24-year-old Mary and 14-year-old Ruzanna, is simply stunned by the Armenian Caritas NGO’s “City of Children” program. It plans to “provide safe housing for about 600 children with disabilities and socially disadvantaged children and their families”. In Armine’s view, this is one of the most dangerous projects she has ever heard:
“Both of my daughters have hearing problem, and Mary has also speech disorder, but we have never thought of separating them from society. People with disabilities are vulnerable because they face obstacles every time. In this case we will make them twice as vulnerable. There will be a differentiation between “us” and “them” – “they”, “their” city, “their” center. Do we want to create a model of that kind of society?” Mrs. Armine shared her concerns with Forrights.
Armine suggests allocating the money to the provinces or choosing one city and making it as comfortable as possible for people with disabilities:
“There is quite a lot of money planned to be spent on this program, implementation of which just means waste of money. No anxious parent will cut his child out of the society and close him or her in a cage, no matter how nice and comfortable the cage is. Let this money, for example, be provided to Artashat or Armavir, and let it contribute to the improvement of the inclusive education institute,” Armine suggests.
Nobody discussed the program with her or any of the parents of children with disabilities. Parents have been complaining about the program since the very first day, hoping that their voices will be heard and that “the unacceptable plan will not come to life.”
“We consider this a program of isolation that does not fit our idea of inclusion”
The debate on the “City of Children” project began when the government decided to allocate free space in the Shahumyan and Taperakan communities of Ararat province to the Armenian Caritas NGO.
The program clearly contradicts the RA Constitution, the UN Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the program ratified by the Government of the Republic of Armenia in 2019, the program approved on February 8 and some other programs currently being implemented by the government of Armenia.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Republic of Armenia, the Office of the Human Rights Defender and a number of human rights organizations expressed a negative position on the program.
The draft was submitted to the public discussion on the e-draft site after making several changes. In particular, the wording “persons with disabilities” was omitted from the draft, coming up with the phrase “multi-faceted functions directed toward capacity development”.
The opinion of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, which has expressed a negative stance on the program from the very first day, still remains unchanged. “We consider this a program of isolation that does not fully reflect our understanding of inclusion,” the ministry said in a statement to Forrights.
Minister Zaruhi Batoyan’s spokeswoman Sona Martirosyan says as long as questions remain unclear to the ministry, it will not change its initial stance:
“The mere fact that the program is designed for socially disadvantaged people and people with disabilities already runs counter to all inclusion rules. We have never been in favor of this plan but have instead made some changes to the plan. There is not just one problem we see here; they are numerous,” Martirosyan noted.
The RA Ombudsman in his turn expresses concern about the positive conclusion of the RA Government on the “City of Children” program. According to the Defender’s position, the project contradicts the child’s best interests and Armenia’s international obligations.
“Implementation of the project in this way will contribute to the deepening of stereotypes and stigma towards children with disabilities and socially insecure children,” Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan said.
“Any project that leads to isolation is unacceptable”
The project has been discussed with stakeholders and organizations dealing with the rights of people with disabilities only once, only last month, not by the initiative of the Armenian Caritas, but by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Republic of Armenia. Susanna Tadevosyan, President of the Bridge of Hope NGO, who attended the meeting, told Forrights that the authors of the project were asked to direct the project funds and build a structure in the region that would serve everyone and would not lead to isolation. The project should not contradict the principle of inclusiveness. Any project that leads to isolation is unacceptable,” said the human rights activist.
We have been informed by the Armenian Caritas organization that Director Gagik Tarasyan is not at his office and they do not know when he will return. Our other calls remained unanswered. It should be reminded that as early as in August, the NGO informed us that details of the program will be presented at a press conference in September. Almost three months have passed, but no press conference has taken place.
According to the official website of the Municipality of Yerevan, the area of the “City of Children” will cover about 1 hectare, the cost of the project will reach 1 million USD, and a period of 3 years has been noted for its implementation.
The project is currently in the process of amendment.