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Neglect and stigmatization can result in exclusion for children with disabilities

There are an estimated 150 million children with disabilities in the world, most of whom live with the reality of exclusion. The vast majority of children with disabilities in developing countries have no access to rehabilitative health care or support services, and many are unable to acquire a formal education.

In many cases, disabled children are simply withdrawn from community life; even if they are not actively shunned or maltreated, they are often left without adequate care. Where special provision is made for children with disabilities, it often still involves segregating them in institutions - the proportion of disabled children living in public institutions has increased, for instance, in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe since the onset of political transition.

Many disabilities are directly attributable to deprivations of essential goods and services, especially in early childhood. Lack of prenatal care adds to the risk of disability, while malnutrition can result in stunting or poor resistance to disease. Disabilities resulting from poor nutrition or lack of vaccines must be addressed by concerted action and donor support. The worldwide assault on polio - a major cause of disability in the past - has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the disease, from 350,000 cases in 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, to under 1,255 at the end of 2004.

Between 250,000 and 500,000 children are still blinded each year by Vitamin A deficiency, a syndrome easily prevented by an annual capsule costing just two cents.

Children involved in hazardous labour or who have been conscripted as soldiers face greatly heightened risks of disabling injury. Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to maim or disable children even in countries that are no longer in conflict. Of the 65 countries where children suffered mine causalities between 2002 and 2003, nearly two thirds had not experienced active conflict during the period.

Regardless of the cause, children with disabilities require special attention. Otherwise, they risk being excluded from school and within their societies, communities and even households.