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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Baroness Hollins delivers maiden speech on the human rights of young people with learning disabilities

Embargoed until 02 December 2010

Baroness Sheila Hollins, a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, delivered her maiden speech in the House of Lords today (2 December 2010).

Speaking during Lord Alton of Liverpool’s debate on human rights abuses worldwide, Baroness Hollins told the chamber: “Today, I will share my concerns about the rights of people of all ages who live with learning disabilities. I have just returned from Romania where I was invited to introduce the Bucharest Declaration and Action Plan at a World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe high-level conference. The Declaration is called: ‘Better Health, Better Lives: improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people with learning disabilities and their families’. The Romanian Minister of Health signed the Declaration on behalf of Ministers of Health from across the WHO Europe Region of 53 countries.

“In many ways this Declaration was an unlikely occurrence. Noble Lords will have heard about the terrible conditions in which thousands of abandoned babies, disabled children and young people live, and may have seen pictures of children being kept in caged beds, in buildings which are little more than warehouses for abandoned children. Media attention in recent years has focused particularly on Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. But these countries are not the only ones to be failing children.

“There is still poor practice in many parts of our Region. As many as a third-of-a-million disabled children and young people still experience discrimination, neglect and abuse in institutions in Europe, as well as in other countries throughout the world. Most disabled children and young people and their families are poor, with little formal support being provided for them. Negative attitudes and stereotypes are the norm, and they experience barriers in gaining access to health care. These are human rights issues.”

Baroness Hollins continued: “I am encouraged that the Noble Lord, the Minister, Lord Howell of Guildford has convened an advisory group on human rights challenges to inform his work at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I sincerely hope that this group will have regard to the human rights abuses affecting disabled children and young people in many parts of the world. I would like to ask the Noble Lord, the Minister, to convene a roundtable to discuss how expertise in this country can best be used to improve the human rights of children and young people with intellectual disabilities internationally.”

The House of Lords Appointments Commission named Baroness Hollins as a non-party-political peer in October this year, in recognition of her work focusing on the mental and physical health of people with learning disabilities. She sits as a crossbencher.

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