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Raising a strong voice for children with disabilities

© UNICEF Kenya/2013/Ndungu
Children from Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE) perform songs and poems during the launch of SOWC 2013: Children with Disabilities

Supporting inclusion at birth, in school and in life

By Daisy Serem

NAIROBI, Kenya, 1 August 2013: The State of the World’s Children 2013 report was officially launched in Kenya with a special focus on Children with Disabilities. Government officials, policy makers, civil society and other key stakeholders graced the event hosted by UNICEF Kenya Country Office. But the chief guests were children from a range of special schools who came to stand up for their rights to inclusion in every aspect of life.

The children entertained guests with songs and poems in their own special way, demonstrating that disability is not inability. 12 year old Kelvin Kiptanui is visually impaired and a student at Kilimani Primary School. Despite his disability, he says he can still enjoy life and live his dream of becoming a lawyer someday but only if he is supported in his education.

Kelvin recited a short poem touching at the heart of the launch and urging all to respect the rights of children with disabilities. “I am a child, give me my rights! I am here to tell you, I too have a right. A right to live, a right to eat, a right to grow and a right to education.’

The 2013 report states that 93 million children in the world live with disability. Many of these children, including those in Kenya, face stigma, discrimination and exclusion from society due to ignorance and negative perceptions.

See the child before the disability

UNICEF, through the State of the World’s Children Report, gives a voice to children with disabilities encouraging their inclusion in society and equal rights of all children, regardless of ability. Communities will gain much more if they focused on what children with disabilities can achieve, rather than what they cannot do.

“[The report] gives a voice to children to encourage them to take up positions as architects and agents of change in their towns, villages and cities, and to engage a dialogue leading towards equal treatment of all children, regardless of ability,” says UNICEF Kenya’s Representative, Marcel Kanyankore Rudasingwa.

According to the Kenya Institute of Special Education, inclusive education is vital in realizing the rights of children with disabilities. Kenya’s free primary education policy is a stepping stone in ensuring that all children enjoy basic education. However, children with special educational needs require further support such as a disability-friendly environment for learning, trained teachers, an inclusive curriculum, special learning aids, and so forth.

The Government of Kenya has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Children and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities therefore protecting children with disabilities from neglect and abuse.

“This means that the Government of Kenya is committed to ensure that all children irrespective of the fact that they live with a disability or not, can enjoy their rights without discrimination of any kind,” says Kirstin Bostelmann, Acting Regional Director of the Christian Blind Mission (CBM). “The commitment of the Government of Kenya also demands the inclusion of children with disabilities in all aspects of life and in their communities.”

© UNICEF Kenya/2013/Ndungu
Children read through the SOWC 2013 report during the launch

Fighting stigma, discrimination and exclusion

The SOWC 2013 Report was officially commissioned by Honourable Isaac Mwaura, Chairman of the Kenya Disabled Parliamentarians Caucus. The Member of Parliament says he has faced many challenges growing up as an albino but is determined to ensure that these children do not encounter the same.

Government officials living with disabilities have also faced difficulties in their work due to a lack of representation and recognition. Today, with the current constitution, they now have a voice to speak out and more disabled persons can be seen performing beyond expectations in government offices. To Hon. Mwaura, this is a testimony to children that they too can rise above negative perceptions and realize their ambitions.

“Our little children, you shall continue to see people who like you in these big places. They will discount the expected status that we are going to be beggars, burdens and dependant on other people and that we shall not amount to anything!” He said in an inspirational speech.

In a show of commitment and support, legislators, UNICEF officials and others in positions of influence appended their signatures to a call for action to ‘Support inclusion at birth, in school and in life.’

The Kenya Disabled Parliamentarians Caucus in partnership with UNICEF has stepped up efforts to bring issues of children with disabilities to the forefront and ensure they have an opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.

“Never again shall we be relegated to the periphery. Never again shall we be dismissed because of the physical appearance, how we communicate, the way we walk, or the manner we perform any activity,” Hon. Mwaura adds. “This report is a vindication of the fact that we can create our own narratives, we can tell our own stories as children with disabilities.”

 

 
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