Europe

Watchdog warns Spain of impact of cuts on children

  • 9 October 2013
  • From the section Europe
Carolina Gonzalez (L) and her three- and four-year-old children sit in a street with activists after riot police evicted them from an unoccupied building in Malaga, southern Spain, 3 October Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Carolina Gonzalez (L) and her three- and four-year-old children were evicted from a squat in Malaga this month, Reuters news agency reports

The Council of Europe, the continent's main human rights watchdog, has warned Spain its austerity programme could have a devastating impact on children.

Child poverty reached 30% in 2011 and cuts in welfare, health and education have left some children homeless and malnourished, its report said.

Disabled people also face poverty and increasing marginalisation as state help is withdrawn, the Council found.

But Spain's government said investment in education for all had risen.

Defending its commitment to human rights, it said that subsidies for disabled people had also risen.

Spain has been carrying out painful austerity measures since it was hit hard in the 2008-9 global economic crisis, when its once-booming property sector collapsed.

The jobless rate stood at 26.3% in the second quarter of this year, down from a record 27.2% in the first quarter.

In rare good news, the International Monetary Fund said this week it expected Spain and other southern eurozone states to exit recession and start growing economically from next year.

Evicted and isolated

The Council of Europe (CoE), which is based in Strasbourg and has 47 member-states ranging from the EU to Russia, sent its commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, on a visit to Madrid and Seville in June.

Mr Muiznieks met government officials as well as non-governmental organisations to assess the impact of the economic crisis on the country's children and disabled people.

"The growing child poverty rate... has a potentially devastating long-term impact on children and the country," he said in his report, published on Wednesday.

"Children have been disproportionately affected by cuts in social, health and educational budgets and shrinking family benefits have led some children to experience destitution and nutrition problems."

He singled out house evictions as an issue of concern for their impact on children.

"Spain has witnessed an unprecedented wave of evictions for non-repayment of mortgage loans, following the bursting of the 'property bubble'," he said.

"Evictions have often led to the social exclusion of the evicted persons, including children, given that evicted families sometimes refrain from requesting assistance from social services for fear of being deprived of the custody of their children."

Separate classes

While acknowledging state efforts to improve the rights of Spain's 3.8 million disabled people, the Latvian commissioner said budget cuts were having a "serious impact" on their living conditions and social inclusion.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Maria Isabel Rodriguez Romero, seen here being comforted by an activist, was evicted along with her disabled parents from social housing in Madrid this month, Reuters news agency reports

"In some schools, all children with disabilities were grouped together in one separate class, and in other instances they were left in mainstream classes but without any personalised support to enable them to be educated on an equal footing with other children," Mr Muiznieks found.

He also urged Spain to address concerns about police brutality and the perceived impunity with which its law enforcement agencies operated.

An "effective and independent" complaints mechanism would be the most effective way of addressing the problem, he said.

In response to the CoE report, the Spanish government said investment in education had "risen sharply" in recent years.

Answering the charge that children were being traumatised by evictions, it pointed to a law passed only this year specifically to protect indebted households.

Under this act, evictions have to be postponed for two years in certain circumstances, for example, when it is a large family, when it contains a child below the age of three or one of its members has a significant disability.

Defending the educational system, the government noted that during the 2010-2011 academic year, 78% of students with disabilities were schooled in mainstream centres, and the rest in special schools.

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