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Increasing early learning opportunities for children in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Why we talk about children with disabilities?

It is estimated that over 1 billion people or approximately 15 % of the world’s population today live with a disability; at least 200 million of them are children with disabilities. It is calculated that about 1 in every 10 children in the world copes with a disability and around 40 million of the 115 million out-of-school children have a disability. In general, data on people with disabilities, particularly children with disabilities, are lacking or underestimated. This is due to factors such as stigma, isolation, low birth registration, families hiding disabled children and these children not being counted in surveys and censuses.

Persons with disabilities constitute one of the most vulnerable groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The country has adopted and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol but many of the rights set out in the Convention are not applied in practice due to a lack of implementation mechanisms. The 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) estimated that 6.5 % of children from 2 to 9 years of age have some kind of disability in BiH. These children are marginalized starting from early childhood. It begins when children with disabilities are not given access to basic education in mainstream educational institutions due to several factors: a lack of or limited basic facilities required to ensure their accessibility to kindergartens and schools; teaching staff that are not prepared to work with them; school curricula that are not flexible and adapted to these children’s special educational needs. As a result, many children are placed in residential institutions. It is estimated that 67 % of children placed in residential care in BiH are children with disabilities, a number which has been steadily growing during the last decade and is the highest in the region (Transmonee 2010).


Persons with disabilities are identified in the CRPD to suffer from “long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. Children with disabilities are among the most stigmatized and excluded of children around the world. They are likely to have poorer health, less education, less economic opportunities, live in greater poverty and more often in institutions, and deal with more inequalities than their counterparts without disabilities. Girls and adolescent girls with disabilities are among the most disadvantaged due to discrimination against their sex and disability, and are more at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.

‘Disability’ is “an evolving concept that results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (CRPD). Some children are born with disabilities and others become disabled due to an accident, injury, malnourishment or disease. Disabilities can range from moderate to severe, some are permanent and others are temporary. Many are preventable and are linked directly to poverty (lack of health care and immunizations, poor nutrition, etc.). Thus, poverty and disability create a vicious circle where disability exacerbates the vulnerability to poverty and vice versa.


Given the grim picture of the situation of children with disabilities in BiH, there is a need for a comprehensive and holistic intervention: targeting the social protection systems at the policy-level for ensuring equal benefits and social services to people with disabilities; strengthening early childhood interventions (ECI) mechanisms to ensure detection of disabilities at an early stage; advocating and supporting inclusive education in all educational facilities; transforming residential institutions into community based services, such as day-care centres; supporting Centres for Social Work (CSW) and families to provide the best care to children and persons with disabilities; and raising awareness about different types of disabilities to reduce the prejudices of the general public towards the issue. The brief sections below will look at each of these areas more closely.

 

 

 

 

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