Children with disabilities facing widespread abuse in West Africa

by Plan International | @davtox | Plan International
Monday, 23 September 2013 14:06 GMT

Children with disabilities in West Africa face extreme challenges in their daily lives. Plan / Derman Salifou

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

NEW YORK: Children with disabilities across West Africa face widespread discrimination, violence and abuse in their daily lives, says a report by child rights organisation Plan International.

The research conducted by Plan in collaboration with the University of Toronto says that very little progress has been made for inclusion of children with disabilities in the region despite legal commitments made by the governments.

The report “Outside the Circle” showschildren with disabilities are subject to profound levels of poverty, exclusion and discrimination. They are widely excluded from education and denied access to protection services and basic rights enjoyed by other children. Shockingly, reports of infanticide and trading in body parts of children with disabilities were reported during the study.

“Children with disabilities, especially girls, are highly vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual abuse as well as neglect. There is a lack of recognition in all countries of the extent of this abuse,” said Adama Coulibaly, Plan’s Regional Director for West Africa.

Plan’s report has been released in New York today to coincide with the first ever High Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on development and disability.

“Plan is calling on governments in West Africa to implement their legal commitments to children with disabilities, particularly the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This historic meeting is an opportunity to emphasise the importance of eradicating discrimination of children with disabilities not just in West Africa but all over the world,” said Coulibaly.

The report found that the major cause of exclusion and discrimination was stigma and negative attitudes towards children with disabilities.

The field research conducted in four countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone, Niger and Togo - found that community perceptions are the root causes of endemic violence and discrimination against girls and boys with disabilities. Three key factors were found to influence the depth of stigma of individual children with disabilities – their gender, their impairment type and the severity of the impairment

Examples reported to researchers of what had caused children’s impairments included beliefs that it wasa punishment from God;result of “sins” committed by parents;an act by the devil; thatthe child was a sorcerer; witchcraft on the child/family; or the mother had looked at a disabled child during pregnancy. It is common for children with disabilities to be regarded as “supernatural”, “bizarre” or “demons”.

“In my community, children with cerebral palsy who cannot stand are called snakes because they lie on the ground. To eliminate such children, ceremonies are organised at the river, where the affected child is left to drown and it is said that the snake is gone,” the report quotes a social worker from Togo as saying.

“Stories of abuse and neglect in homes, communities and in schools across Africa are common but not often verified. The majority of girls and boys with disabilities continue to be excluded from formal education and functions of social life. Very often the families are ashamed or believe the child has no ability to learn,” said Aidan Leavy, member of Plan’s Disability Inclusion Working Group.

Plan is calling on governments to make children with disabilities a priority at the UN High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development as well as in the ongoing discussions on post Millennium Development Goals,currently being negotiated. The organisation is urging concrete action to ensure that children with disabilities have access to education, protection from violence and abuse; and opportunity to have their voices heard.

Editor’s notes:

Founded 75 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world. Plan works in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.


Global media contact:

Davinder Kumar

Head of Communications, Plan - West Africa Region

Global roaming: +221 777406697