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The European Court of Human Rights condemns Italy for discrimination against an autistic pupil

On September 10 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held unanimously that there had been a violation of the right to education of a nonverbal young girl on the autism spectrum (G.L.) from Eboli, who was deprived of specialised learning support during her first two years of primary education (between 2010 and 2012) even though the support was provided for by law.

Read the Judgement G.L. v. Italy in full (en français)

Read the press-release of the ECHR

Relying in particular on Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European  Convention on  Human Rights  in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) to the Convention, G.L. complained that, for two school years, she had not received the specialised assistance provided for by law. She also argued that Italy had failed in its positive obligation to guarantee equal opportunities for disabled people.

The Court found that G.L. had not been able to continue attending primary school in equivalent conditions to those available to other children and that this difference was due to her disability. The Italian Government relied, in particular, on a lack of financial resources. The authorities had not sought to determine the young girl’s real needs and provide tailored support in order to allow her to continue her primary education in conditions that would, as far as possible, be equivalent to those in which other children attended the same school. In particular, the authorities had never considered the possibility that a lack of resources could be compensated for by a reduction in the overall educational provision, so that it would be distributed equally between non-disabled and disabled pupils.

The Court further noted that the discrimination suffered by the young girl was all the more serious as it had taken place in the context of primary education, which formed the foundation of child education and social integration, giving children their first experience of living together in a community.

The Court held that Italy was to pay G.L. 2,520 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage, EUR 10,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,175 for costs and expenses.

The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

Read more about autism and the right to education