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See the child – before the disability, UNICEF says

© UNICEF Philippines/2013/Palasi
Beberlee Villaran receives therapy at a government-run therapy center in Mandaluyong City.

Inclusion of children with disabilities benefits society as a whole

DA NANG, VIET NAM/MANILA, PHILIPPINES, 30 May 2013 — Children with disabilities and their communities would both benefit if society focused on what those children can achieve, rather than what they cannot do, according to UNICEF’s annual State of the World’s Children’s report.

Concentrating on the abilities and potential of children with disabilities (CWDs) would create benefits for society as a whole, says the report released today.

"When you see the disability before the child, it is not only wrong for the child, but it deprives society of all that child has to offer," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Their loss is society's loss; their gain is society's gain.”

The report lays out how societies can include children with disabilities because when they play a full part in society, everyone benefits. For instance, inclusive education broadens the horizons of all children even as it presents opportunities for children with disabilities to fulfil their ambitions.

More efforts to support integration of children with disabilities would help tackle the discrimination that pushes them further into the margins of society.

In the Philippines, census data indicate that there were 201,896 reported CWDs in 2002, with about 2.9 per cent of the Filipino population with some form of disability. Vision-related disabilities recorded highest at 50 per cent, followed by motor-related and mental (both at 14%), and hearing (13%). The World Health Organization estimates 4.5 per cent of the global population have disabilities.

For many children with disabilities, exclusion begins in the first days of life with their birth going unregistered. Lacking official recognition, they are cut off from the social services and legal protections that are crucial to their survival and prospects. Their marginalization only increases with discrimination.

“For children with disabilities to count, they must be counted – at birth, at school and in life,” said Mr. Lake.

The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities says that children with disabilities are the least likely to receive health care or go to school. They are among the most vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect, particularly if they are hidden or put in institutions – as many are because of social stigma or the economic cost of raising them.

The combined result is that children with disabilities are among the most marginalized people in the world. Children living in poverty are among the least likely to attend their local school or clinic but those who live in poverty and also have a disability are even less likely to do so.

Gender is also a key factor, as girls with disabilities are less likely than boys to receive food and care.

“We should see the wealth of ability that each child with disability has to offer, and enable them to engage and participate in their communities. If children remain uncounted in statistics and put away in institutions, we will not be successful in being a truly inclusive society,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi said.

 “Discrimination on the grounds of disability is a form of oppression,” the report says, noting that multiple deprivations lead to even greater exclusion for many children with disabilities.

There is little accurate data on the number of children with disabilities, what disabilities these children have and how disabilities affect their lives. As a result, few governments have a dependable guide for allocating resources to support and assist children with disabilities and their families.

About one third of the world’s countries have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) yet. The Philippines was among the early signatories of the CRPD. The report urges all governments to keep their promises to guarantee the equal rights of all their citizens – including their most excluded and vulnerable children.

Progress is being made toward the inclusion of children with disabilities, albeit unevenly, and The State of the World’s Children 2013 sets out an agenda for further action.

The report urges governments to ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and to support families so that they can meet the higher costs of caring for children with disabilities.

It calls for measures to fight discrimination among the general public, decision-makers and providers of such essential services as schooling and health care.

The Philippines’ commitment to the CRC and CRPD is supported by national laws and local ordinances that uphold the rights of CWDs.  Republic Act No. 7610 was promulgated in 1992 to protect children against all forms of abuse, exploitation, and discrimination, given their unique standing in society. The Child and Youth Welfare Code also serves as a reference to reexamine Philippine laws and institutions, and promote changes to ensure that CWDs are guaranteed the same rights as all other children.

Challenges in the fulfilment of rights of CWDs in the Philippines include data management and reporting on the number of CWDs, enforcement of existing laws, sustainable community-based rehabilitation and skills training, and access to inclusive health, education and socio-cultural services.

International agencies should make sure the advice and assistance they provide to countries is consistent with the CRC and the CRPD. They should promote a concerted global research agenda on disability to generate data and analysis that will guide planning and resource allocation, the report says.

It emphasizes the importance of involving children and adolescents with disabilities by consulting them on the design and evaluation of programmes and services for them.

And everyone benefits when inclusive approaches include accessibility and universal design of environments to be used by all to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation.

"The path ahead is challenging," said Mr. Lake. "But children do not accept unnecessary limits. Neither should we."

 

 
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