May 30, 2013 (KAMPALA) – The United Nation Children Fund launched a global report on Thursday highlighting the plight of children living with disabilities and calling for an end to discrimination that leaves them with a limited ability to be active members of society.
UNICEF’s South Sudan envoy, Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, released a statement saying that children with disabilities have the same rights and needs as all children and “should be given equal opportunities to ensure that they grow up to their full potential to become independent and productive citizens. Their rights need to be respected throughout their life”.
Children born with disabilities are often discriminated against from the day they are born as their births go unregistered. This lack of official acknowledgment means that the child can be denied from social services and legal protection.
Their marginalization only increases with discrimination, UNICEF said in a statement, however, no data exists on how many children under the age of six are currently living with disabilities in South Sudan.
“When you see the disability before the child, it is not only wrong for the child, but it deprives society of all that child has to offer,” said Anthony Lake a UNICEF staff during the launching of the report.
The 2008 census revealed that 75.7% of all people living with disabilities in South Sudan have never attended school, contributing to the country’s high illiteracy rates, which are some of the worst in the world.
In 2011, an estimated of 22,896 or 1.6% of the total school population were identified as learners with special needs in South Sudan primary schools.
Mr. Henry Swaka Handicap International’s Advocacy Officer says that South Sudanese children “continue to be isolated when it comes to education as the schools in South Sudan, they are not well equipped with facilities to handle children with special needs”.
The report found that there is little data on the number of children with disabilities, what disabilities they have and how disabilities affect their lives. As a result, few governments have a dependable guide for allocating resources to support and assist children with disabilities and their families.
The State of the World’s Children 2013 report states that children with disabilities are the most likely not to receive health care or go to school. They are among the most vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect, particularly if they are hidden or put in institutions as many are because of social stigma or the economic cost of raising them.
Ms Jackline Moses Ayombo, 20, a resident of Juba who has a hearing impairment says: “One of the worst things about being deaf is that I cannot communicate with people and sometimes this leads to mistreatment and isolation. I have been given the wrong medication several times, because the doctors could not understand my ailment.”
James Ochan, a Project Officer of Handicap International said that society did “not need to create a third class citizen by not providing children with their basic needs, we need to invest in all children, regardless of whether they are living with disabilities or not.”
About one third of the world’s countries have so far failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The 2013 report urges all governments to keep their promises to guarantee the equal rights of all their citizens – including their most excluded and vulnerable children and to support families so that they can meet the higher costs of caring for children with disabilities.
Emmanuel Ladu, 13, asked the government to ensure that children living with disabilities should be involved in extracurricular activities at school just like other children.
UNICEF is calling for measures to fight discrimination among the general public, decision-makers and providers of essential services such as schooling and health care.
It emphasises the importance of involving children and adolescents with disabilities by consulting them on the design and evaluation of programmes and services meant for them.