WWDA Systemic Advocacy on the Unlawful Sterilisation of Minors with Disabilities – Response from UNICEF

In late 2006 and early 2007, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) wrote to a wide range of stakeholders seeking support for WWDA’s call to the Federal and State/Territory Governments to develop universal legislation which prohibits sterilisation of children except in those circumstances which amount to those that are a serious threat to health or life. Below is the response to WWDA Correspondence from UNICEF. January 4, 2007.


Ms Annie Parkinson
Women With Disabilities Australia
P.O. Box 605
Rosny Park, 7018 TAS

Dear Ms Parkinson,

UNICEF strongly supported the drafting of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. Throughout the drafting process, UNICEF submitted several statements to the Ad Hoc Committtee (June 2003, 2004 and 2005) advocating for the need to incorporate specific provisions with the aim of strengthening the rights of children with disabilities in the Convention. UNICEF, together with the International Disability Caucus, argued for the inclusion of an article on protection of children from sterilisation on the basis of their disability. While the final text of the Convention does not explicitly refer to sterilisation, several articles amount to a prohibition of such practice, particularly Article 23 (1) which calls upon States parties to ensure that “persons with disabilities, including children shall retain their fertility on an equal basis with others”.

As you may know, UNICEF’s mission statement clearly states that the organisation is “guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and strives to establish children’s rights as enduring ethical principles and international standards of behaviour towards children”. Guided by its mission statement, UNICEF has consistently promoted the position that children must live free of discrimination of any kind. Children with disabilities, like all children, should enjoy all the rights set forth in the CRC. In this context, UNICEF believes that measures, including discriminatory laws which fail to consider children with disabilities on an equal basis with other children represent a profound violation of the Convention.

For UNICEF, the principle of the best interests of the child (Article 3 of the CRC) is the test provided by the CRC against which governments can measure their actions in favour of children. This principle requires that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. In addition, UNICEF believes that all children should be given the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting them. This is especially true for children living in situations that hamper their ability to exercise their rights. Children with disabilities, like any other children, must be treated as human beings with human rights. They have the right to express tueir views in matters concerning them, as well as having their views given due consideration (Article 12 of the CRC). UNICEF views children with intellectual disabilities as having the capacity to contribute to decision-making. We deem it crucial to challenge the lack of belief in children with restricted capacities to participate in the community. Participation should be considered as a central part of the learning process, enabling those with disabilities to make decisions, take responsibility for their decisions, as well as to develop self-esteem and confidence. Denying children with disabilities the right to participate in decision-making, is denying their status as subjects of rights.

UNICEF strongly believes that children with disabilities have the right to be protected from all forms of violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse. Children with disabilities are indeed particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse. However, governments should avoid supplanting the protection to which children with disabilities have a right, by measures that are likely to expose them to more violence. Indeed the sterilisation of children with disabilities has no other effect than ensuring [and reassuring eventual perpetrators] that a child’s sexual activity will not result in pregnancy. For children, this measure does not mitigate or prevent the emotional trauma and physical harm, including sexually transmitted diseases that they are likely to experience due to violence.

UNICEF believes that measures which aim at protecting children with disabilities should in tueir essence be respectful of children’s rights and dignity as human beings. Preventive approaches aimed at ensuring realisation of children’s rights have proven successful in diminishing chances of sexual exploitation and abuse of children and have reduced the likelihood of their being exposes to sexually transmitted diseases. These measures include and promote access to support structures and services, as well as to information and education; and other healh care programmes.

UNICEF believes it important to remind countries who have ratified the CRC of their obligation to ensure the rights of all children, including children with disabilities, and to refrain from enacting legislation that raises concerns of compatibility with the object and purpose of the Convention.

Sincerely yours,
Elizabeth Gibbons
Chief Global Policy
Division of Policy and Planning
United Nations Children’s Fund
Three United Nations Plaza
New York, New York 10017