Parents of disabled children on strike in Poland

For the past two weeks, parents of grown-up disabled children have occupied the corridors of the parliament. They demand higher pensions and a rehabilitation benefit of 500 zlotys (115 euros) per month.

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
Parents of disabled children on strike in Poland - NewsMavens
Sister of mercy takes care of a disabled child. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

The Polish government, while actively discouraging women from aborting fetuses with congenital diseases, provides very little material support once the children are born.

Families of disabled children, frustrated with the situation, went on strike. They are mostly women -- a testimony to the brutal fact that 80% of men with disabled children leave their families.

Kasia Pietrasowa's son, Mikołaj, suffers from Smith-Magenis syndrome.

"We are the only professional group deprived of employee rights. We work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, without substitution. If our child is not able to leave the house, we can't either," she says.

Under her online statement, someone commented: "Caring for a handicapped child should not be viewed as a job". 

This kind of attitude is prevalent in Poland. Parents are expected to devote or even "sacrifice" themselves for their children. The religious vocabulary is no accident here -- according to an old Polish saying, "suffering ennobles". But the last thing these families require is to be treated as holy martyrs by the government and the Church. They need political and material support.

If, as Pietrasowa advocates, caring for a disabled child was treated as a job, parents could receive paid holidays, sick leave and would be protected by labor law. This could prevent burnouts and help them remain socially active. The stakes of the current protest are much higher than the 500 zlotys demanded. For these parents, this is a battle for dignity.

Details from the story:

  • On April 18, a group of parents with grown-up disabled children relaunched their 2014 protest. 
  • Over the past weeks, numerous support demonstrations have been organized outside of the parliament.
  • On Friday evening, Minister of Family, Work and Social policy Elżbieta Rafalska agreed to the 500 zlotys per month (115 euros) demand. However, instead of cash, the families would receive this money in medicines and other supplies, such as adult diapers. Many protesters felt the proposition showed a lack of trust from the government.
  • As for the Catholic Church, Archbishop Hoser has recently announced that the institution will not interfere in the negotations -- a surprising development, taking into account their avid participation in the abortion battle over the past two years. Once again, it is clear that the Church values unborn children more than living ones. Hoser advised the mothers to be humble and "have realistic expectations instead of immediately demanding cash".
  • According to a Kantar Millward Brown poll commisioned by television station TVN, almost 90% of Poles support the demands of the families.

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NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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