Jordan

In Jordan, refugee children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable

Watch the story of a father with two children with disabilities struggling to cope with life in Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

By Malene Kamp Jensen

Like all children, those with disabilities have many abilities, but are often excluded from society by discrimination and lack of support, leaving them among the most invisible and vulnerable children in the world.

Today, UNICEF launched its flagship report The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities. The report brings global attention to the urgent needs of a largely invisible population.

Children continue to pay the highest price of the Syrian conflict, no one more so than children with disabilities, like Abdullatif’s 15-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.

AMMAN, Jordan 31 May 2013 – When Abdullatif’s neighbour was killed, and his own house destroyed and farm animals lost, the decision was made simple. He had to flee the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic to save his family. But the journey and challenges that lay ahead were anything but easy, especially with two children with disabilities.

Two children gone silent

Abdullatif’s 15-year-old son with physical and mental disabilities is unable to walk. “He was heavy so we had to take turns to carry him across the border,” says Abdullatif.

The boy has not spoken a word since the fighting broke out, and taking care of him in their fly-infested tent in a sprawling refugee camp in Za’atari, Jordan, has been a challenge, in itself.

Then there is the despair over Abdullatif’s 4-year-old daughter, who needs surgery to restore her hearing.

“Before the war broke out, she had an operation in Syria to put in a device that could make her hear,” says Abdullatif. After the operation, the little girl started to talk and was chatting away – until one day, exactly two months and 27 days after they’d arrived in Jordan, when she, too, suddenly went silent.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Jordan/2013
Like her brother, who has not spoken since fighting broke out, Abdullatif's 4-year-old daughter has gone silent. She needs surgery to restore her hearing - but her family has no way to afford the US$10,000 it will cost.

Doctors in Jordan gave Abdullatif the agonizing news. The piece that had been implanted in her ear had stopped working, and the cost of a new device here would be over US$10,000 – money that the family has no way of obtaining. They had fled with little more than the clothes on their backs. 

“I remember the exact time when her hearing device stopped working,” says Abdullatif, adding that he has spent practically every minute since that moment trying to find a doctor or donor who can help his daughter hear again. He worries that, if the procedure is not carried out before she turns 7, she might not regain her speech.

Children with disabilities at added risk

Children like Abdullatif’s are especially vulnerable to living a life of exclusion and poverty, according to UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities, released 30 May. Children with disabilities are at added risk during times of disaster and emergency – and the crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic is no exception.

Conflict can lead to physical injuries, extreme duress from witnessing traumatic events, a breakdown in health services and lack of access to proper food and safe water. It can leave children separated from families, homes and schools, sometimes for years.

Well over two years into the Syrian conflict, according to the United Nations, some 80,000 people have been killed, including thousands of children, over 4.25 million people are internally displaced – and 1.5 million more have fled into neighbouring countries.

Though data for children with disabilities are difficult to come by, it is estimated that, globally, tens of millions of children are living with a moderate or severe disability. But the figure could be much higher. For Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons, the percentage of children with disabilities is disproportionately high, given the many children who are injured and profoundly distressed as a result of the violence.

As needs rapidly outpace funds, the children of the Syrian Arab Republic are paying the highest price of the conflict – no one more so than those with disabilities, who risk being left out of the humanitarian response instead of taking their rightful place in helping to strengthen and rebuild their communities and countries.

Abdullatif says he is determined not to have that happen to his daughter.

“All I care about is this child,” he says. “I want her to hear again.”


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Children & disability

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