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Children with disabilities

© UNICEF 2012 / Denisse Torena

According to the World Report on Disability, 1 billion people have a disability with at least 1 in 10 being children and 80 per cent living in developing countries. In accordance with the social model outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), children with disabilities have 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 (CRPD, Article 1).

In Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, 5.1million estimated children have disabilities. There is mounting evidence that of this number, an estimated 3.6 million children with disabilities are "invisible"; they are not included in any official data, are likely to be kept out of school, and are out of the public eye. They are a priority group for UNICEF in the region, one that is subject to severe discrimination, segregation and exclusion from all social aspects of life. While children from marginalized groups, in general, continue to lack appropriate and high quality education, children with disabilities, often receive no education at all.

Those who are registered and counted are denied many rights. Some 219,000 who are regarded as children with disabilities do not live at home. This region has the highest rate of institutionalized children in the world, and the trend is growing.

An estimated 3.6 million children with disabilities in the region are not included in any official data, they are "invisible".

The statistics on incidence and prevalence of childhood disabilities which are available are based on assumptions which often lie within large ranges of uncertainty and are outdated. Children with single or multiple forms of physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments can become disabled if the attitudes of people around them and physical barriers hinder access to basic services and foreclose equal participation.

The realities of disability are alarming. Legislation, policies and attitudes that fail to recognise the legal capacity of children with disabilities are factors that aggravate their discrimination and exclusion of society and increase their vulnerability to violence, abuse and exploitation.

Based on the social model of disability, UNICEF recognises that responsive systems should strengthen the effective participation, development and inclusion of this group of children and their caregivers as well as address social attitudes and perceptions. As a result, disability is addressed by capturing the dynamic interplay between other health, protection and education needs, rather than treating disability in isolation.

UNICEF works with children with disability in the context of all its work.

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