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UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is an international human rights treaty – an agreement between governments- which says that all disabled people – children, young people and adults – have certain rights.

The Convention is separated into “articles”, or sections. The rights in the treaty are explained below.

When a state ratifies (signs up to) a treaty it takes on legal obligations under international law. The UK ratified the UNCRPD in June 2009. Unfortunately the Convention has not been made part of our domestic law, meaning that a child cannot go to court relying only on the UNCRPD. However, as international law, the Convention is meant to be followed and should be referred to by courts, tribunals and other administrative processes when making decisions that affect disabled children.  Public bodies should also comply with it. This means that the UNCRPD can be referred to in courts, tribunals and administrative proceedings such as case conferences, reviews and school exclusion panels.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a group of disability rights experts that looks at how well governments are protecting the rights of disabled people, including young disabled people.

In August 2009, the UK ratified the Optional Protocol to the UNCRPD. This allows disabled children to take a case to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities if they think their rights have been breached, after they have been through the English court system.

Read our guide to using the UNCRPD.

What are the rights in the Convention?

Article 1 says why there is a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – to make sure disabled people get all their human rights and to encourage everyone to respect the dignity of disabled people.

 Respecting the dignity of a person is recognising them as a person of equal worth to others. This means showing real respect for their feelings, views and privacy, and always treating them as an individual. This is the absolute starting point for human rights – for everyone.

Article 2 explains what different terms mean, like "communication", "language" and "universal design". 

Article 3 sets out 8 general principles of the Convention. These are:

a)    Respect for each person’s dignity and personhood – like other human beings, disabled people are not the property of other people. You have your own thoughts, feelings, ideas and plans which other people should respect;

b)   All the rights in this Convention belong to every disabled person;

c)    Disabled people are full and equal members of society;

d)   Everyone must be respected. That people are different is a good thing that helps make a better society and world;

e)    Every person must have equal chances in life;

f)    There should be equality between males and females; and

g)   Children usually gain more understanding and ability to do things and make decisions as they get older. There is no fixed age for this: it all depends on the individual child and what you want to do or decide. Countries that agree to this Convention agree to make sure everyone understands that children are usually able to make more decisions over time.

Article 4 of the Convention places a massive duty on governments to do everything they can to make a reality of all the rights for all disabled people living in their country.


Article 7 of the Convention deals specifically with the rights of young disabled people – those aged 17 years and under. It says that:

        • Governments must do all that they possibly can to make sure you get all your rights
        •  Governments must do all they possibly can to make sure you enjoy equal rights to children and young people that are not disabled
        • Whenever things are being decided, or people are doing things, that affect you, your best interests should be a top priority
        • Governments must make sure that your right to express your views freely is upheld. Your views should always be given “due weight” according to your age and understanding. Your views should be taken just as seriously as the views of children and young people who are not disabled
        • You should be given help to make sure your right to be heard and taken seriously is followed. This assistance may be necessary because of your age or because of your disability. The important point is that everything possible is done to make sure you enjoy this right wherever and whatever you are doing. 

There are other Articles in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that specifically mention young disabled people. These are:

Article 8 includes a duty on governments to make sure the education system encourages a respectful attitude towards disabled people.

Article 16 includes a duty on governments to introduce laws and policies (Government rules) to make sure the abuse and mistreatment of young disabled people is noticed and dealt with properly.

Article 23 includes several important points about the rights of young disabled people:

        • You have the right to be in charge of your own fertility (decisions about whether or not to get pregnant or use contraception)
        • If a court is making a really big decision about you – for example, whether or not you should be adopted (where you legally join another family), the court must always do what is best for you
        • You have an equal right to family life as children and young people who are not disabled. Governments should make sure there is plenty of support for families with young disabled people
        • You should never be forced to live away from your parents unless this is the best thing for you. Your disability, or the disability of one or both of your parents, must never cause you to be separated from your parents
        • If you do have to live away from your parents, the first priority should be to arrange for you to live with other people in your wider family. If this cannot happen, the priority should be to find you another family to live with. (Note: your views in this situation should always be taken seriously – see Article 7 above). 

The education rights in this Convention apply to people of all ages. However, they are particularly important for younger people as education is compulsory (has to happen) in childhood.

Article 24 of the Convention covers rights in education. It requires governments to make sure there is an education system (schools, colleges, universities) that includes everyone. This Article says there are 3 main aims of education:

a)    To make sure that every person can develop fully as a human being and feels respected and valued, and to make respect for human rights stronger

b)   To make sure every disabled person develops fully as a human being

c)    To make sure disabled people are included in all parts of society.

There are 5 things a government must do to protect these education rights:

        • Make sure that disabled people are not kept out of the education system just because of their disability
        • Make sure disabled people can have a quality primary and secondary education that is free and includes everyone
        • Make sure that steps are taken to meet the needs of individuals (“reasonable accommodation”)
        • Make sure disabled people get the support they need within mainstream education so they can have a really good education
        • Make sure that support to individuals is offered within educational environments that help people reach their maximum academic and social development, in line with the aim of full inclusion.

Article 24 also stresses the importance of Braille, sign language and all other alternative methods of communication. It says the education system should promote deaf people's language. The education of people who are blind, deaf or deaf blind should use the language and communication that is best for the individual concerned; it should also maximum people's academic and social development. This is particularly important where children are concerned. The government should make sure there are teachers – including disabled teachers – who are qualified in sign language and/or Braille and that other teachers get training. This training should include disability awareness and different forms of communication.

Disabled people have the right to continue their education without discrimination and on an equal basis to others. Changes have to be made to make sure individuals get this right (“reasonable accommodation”).

Article 25 gives disabled people the right to the best possible health without discrimination. Governments should make sure health services understand the needs and rights of males and females. They must also:

(a) Give disabled people the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health services as other people get, including services related to sexual and reproductive health

(b) Provide services that specifically meet the needs of disabled people, including children. This includes services that minimise and prevent further disabilities

(c) Provide services as close as possible to where people live, including in rural areas

(d) Make sure professionals give disabled people the same quality of care as non-disabled people, and that they understand and raise awareness of human rights

(e) Make sure it is against the law to discriminate against disabled people in health or life insurance

(f)  Make sure it is against the law to deny food or fluids from people on the basis of their disability.

Article 26 is about the right to be independent and to be fully included in society. It sets out the things that government must do. This includes supporting participation and inclusion in all parts of society and making sure professionals get training to help them uphold the rights in the Convention.

Article 27 gives disabled people the right to work in jobs they have freely chosen in inclusive workplaces. It says that employment discrimination against disabled people must be against the law. The rights of disabled and non-disabled people in work must be protected – this includes the right to have an effective system to sort out problems and complaints.

Article 28 is the right to an adequate standard of living for disabled people and their families – this includes food, clothing and housing and a continuous improvement of living conditions.  Disabled people have the right to assistance for disability-related expenses, including short-term breaks (“respite care”).

Article 29 is the right to be active politically and to take an active role in society.  It includes the right to be a member of a non-governmental organisation and political party. 

Article 30 gives disabled people the right to enjoy culture, recreation, leisure and sport on an equal basis to non-disabled people. Governments must take action to make sure this right is followed, including action to support the inclusion of disabled people in mainstream sporting activities and disability-specific sporting and recreational activities. This Article gives disabled children the right to participate equally in play, recreation and sporting activities, including those run within schools. 

Articles 31 to 50 say how adults and governments must work together to promote and protect all the rights in this Convention.