Harry Potter and the demise of orphanages

Harry Potter and the demise of orphanages

June 19, 2015

To a spellbound crowd in overflowing room at the United Nations, Robert Martin weaves the same magic he did at the UN a decade ago.

He delivers an uncompromising message: institutions and orphanages are places of neglect and abuse, they are a thing of the past - institutionalisation of disabled children must end.

This is preceded by Robert telling of his life growing up in institutions and the loneliness of being away from his family. There were more than a few tearful eyes in the room at this stage.

He went on to tell of his life as an adult. This is a life with someone to love (his wife Linda) and his cat. Although I have heard Robert speak of this often, I might confess that this time I might have been a little more affected than I anticipated.

Other speakers from the European Union, UN High Commission for Human Rights, the World Bank and the New Zealand Government reinforced Robert’s key message. A speaker from Lumos, the JK Rowling funded charity showed a short film made by disabled and non-disabled children in Moldova who had been freed from an orphanage and talked about their new lives. He gave the evidence of how this can be achieved everywhere, and their aim of ending orphanages around the world by 2030.

Robert has been nominated to be on the UN committee of experts on the disability convention, the first person with a learning/ intellectual disability to be nominated to be on such a UN committee.

The election takes place next year. He was a leader in the development of the convention, a fact acknowledged by other speakers today. Many say he was the game changer in its development.

When he told his story the diplomats who were stalling convention progress realised the most important voices to be heard were those with lived experience of disability.

Robert was also able to mediate some of the tensions between different groups, and helped find a place for the voice of families. Disabled people took the lead, and the convention was agreed in record time.

Robert’s aims, if elected, include bringing institutionalisation to an end, along with Lumos and others and I think he’ll achieve that.

Robert is held in such high esteem/man internationally. There are not many people who have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, but he has.

The rest of us Kiwis should be celebrating his achievements, and both his nominations, and sharing the national conversation about the Kiwi boy with an intellectual disability who grew up at Kimberley and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dig Deeper:

Read Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson's other blogs from the UN Disability Convention Conference:

Disability Rights Commisioner Paul Gibson

Paul Gibson took up his position as Commissioner with responsibilities for disability issues on 26 September 2011, the day New Zealand ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

Mr Gibson is a former president of the Disabled People’s Assembly and was involved in the work of international NGOs advocating for the United Nations to adopt a Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Mr Gibson is partially blind and uses Braille and assistive technology.

Connect with the Commission

facebook.jpg TWITTERLOGONEW.jpg instagram.png linkedin-icon.png