LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Governments should ensure that children with disabilities are not neglected but can achieve their full potential so that both the children and society at large can benefit from their abilities, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday.
Disabled children are among the most marginalised people in the world, UNICEF said in its annual flagship report. They are the least likely to receive health care and education and they are often victims of discrimination.
“Too many of us, when we see these children, we focus mainly on their disability and then turn our eyes away rather than focusing on the children and their abilities,” Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Their loss is society's loss, their gain is society's gain,” he said in a statement.
The degree and forms of discrimination that children with disabilities face vary depending on the type of disability that affects them and their social status.
Many disabled children in developing countries are virtually invisible as their birth often goes unregistered, UNICEF said. Without official recognition, they are cut off from social services and legal protection.
LACK OF DATA
An estimated 93 million children – or 1 in 20 of those aged 14 or less – live with a moderate or severe disability of some kind, UNICEF said. However, these figures are speculative and dated, the agency added.
Lack of accurate data is a problem which makes it particularly hard to push the issue of children with disabilities up the global agenda and improve their condition.
“We need more statistics, more data … the result is that (it) is very hard for governments to focus their efforts when they don’t have the data,” Lake said.
The political will of national governments is also indispensable to ensure that disabled children’s rights are respected, according to Peter Baxter, AusAID's director general.
“International conventions are important because they set … minimum standards for countries that sign up to those conventions,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But signing a convention and demonstrating political will to really implement provisions … is really important in all of this.”
About one third of countries worldwide have so far failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNICEF said. The agency urged “all governments to keep their promises to guarantee the equal rights of all their citizens – including their most excluded and vulnerable children.”
“If you’re a person with disability and you’re a female you’re even more discriminated against,” said Baxter.
“We see in many societies children kept home from school because of their gender alone and notwithstanding that they have a disability, but if you are a girl with disability … the odds are really stacked against you.”
Girls with disabilities are less likely to receive food and care, the report said, and they have more difficulties getting an education and finding work.
THE HARDEST TO REACH
In situations of deep poverty and inequality, disabled children face additional challenges because of their impairments and the many barriers that society puts in front of them.
If the poorest children in the poorest countries in the world are the least likely to be sent to school, children with disabilities in those same communities are even less likely to get an education or even be able to reach the local health clinic, the report said.
“Of the 61 million children out of school in the world, 24 million are children with disabilities,” Baxter said. In order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of getting primary education for all by 2015, “we have to address disability”, he added.
“The key is to get children with disabilities seen more,” Lake said.
“Everything from sporting events – the Paralympics which have a huge effect when they are shown on television and people can see the children competing so wonderfully – and in regular children’s books to encourage authors to include a child with disabilities.”
“These children are overcoming adversities every day and that’s why we not only accept them but are inspired by them,” he said.