Dear child with special needs
To all children in Malaysia with special physical, intellectual and social needs:
You were born into this world just like any other child, needing love and protection. But even as you took your first breath outside of your mother’s womb, you had no idea that you would grow up to be misunderstood and shunned by society.
While the Government has ensured that your basic needs are met so that you will not starve or be abandoned on the streets, they cannot work alone to protect you from the stigma of discrimination. While the Government can legislate that you will receive education, healthcare and shelter, they cannot work alone to legislate people’s beliefs and prejudices against you.
Yet you do not deserve to be treated with discrimination. Whether it was God’s will or a genetic anomaly that made you different from other children, you are still a child with possibilities and potential. With your unique abilities and capacities, you embody the promise of our future.
I am not saying that children with special needs deserve special rights. But you do deserve fair treatment, as well as special care and support to help you live full and independent lives. You deserve to live with dignity, develop self-reliance and be empowered to become an active member of your community.
These are not privileges granted to you at whim, but your birthrights. You may not be able to walk, but you have the right to explore the world. You may not be able to hear or speak, but you have the right to form opinions and be heard. You may not be able to see, but you have the right to know these words I am writing to you.
These rights have been laid out in two legally-binding international documents: the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Government has signed these documents and affirmed their promise to uphold and advance the rights of all children in Malaysia, including the right to non-discrimination and equal opportunities for children with disabilities.
This promise protects you as well as every other child in Malaysia – including the Penan child who lives deep in the forest interior of Sarawak, the Orang Asli child who has inherited the nomadic traditions of his indigenous ancestors, and the child born to migrant parents who has no proof of birth or citizenship.
The Government in Malaysia has made tremendous advancements in meeting children’s basic needs, investing financial and human resources to ensure that you have healthcare, education and a safe childhood.
But as Universal Children’s Day dawns on 20 November, it is a reminder to us that more has to be done to strengthen the protective environment for you, the child with special needs.
More has to be done to ensure that schools have suitable facilities, an inclusive curriculum and teachers to give you quality education.
That your families do not have to struggle financially to get you medical and healthcare.
That your friends can play with you and embrace you for your differences.
That future employers will look beyond your disabilities and hire you for your abilities.
That national policies will be developed with your best interests at heart.
The Government has acknowledged your needs in the Ninth Malaysia Plan and given you a special focus in the Mid-Term Review, renewing their commitment to enhance and increase educational opportunities for children with special needs.
As the guardian of children’s rights, UNICEF is committed to transforming children’s lives and we will spare no efforts in building a world fit for you. Through our programs and advocacy efforts, we will work alongside the Government and focus the spotlight on children like you.
We are the past, but you are the present and the future. We have merely borrowed the world from you and it is our duty to make it a safer and better place for you. This is my promise to you, my child with special needs.
Ever committed to protecting your rights,
* This letter was published by the New Sunday Times on 16 November in celebration of Universal Children's Day 2008
Universal Children’s Day
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
Children with Disabilities and their Rights
Resources - CRC
It's About Ability
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities