15 November 2012, Khartoum -The Sudanese government pledged to improve the lives of children with disabilities today following the launch of a study into their situation. "These people need to become an integral part of our community.. we are here to serve these people and to uphold their rights.”
Children with disabilities and their parents gathered at Khartoum’s Corinthia Hotel to take part in presenting the findings of the research - An Analysis of the Situation of Children with Disabilities in Sudan - a joint project commissioned by Sudan’s National Council for Persons with Disabilities and funded by UNICEF's National Committee in Sweden.
Opening the launch, Ibrahim Adam Ibrahim, the State Minister for Welfare and Social Security thanked UNICEF for their support and welcomed its findings. He said: "This study is very important and we at the Ministry of Social Welfare will be the real guarantor of the recommendations and the outcomes of this study and we are ready to implement them.”
He added: "These people need to become an integral part of our community.. we are here to serve these people and to uphold their rights.”
More than 200 people attended the launch including representatives of unions of persons with disabilities, state-level councils for persons with disabilities and state-level Ministry of Education special education teams from 15 states.
Dr Maha Damaj presenting the main findings of the study said: “This study is the first such qualitative study to be based primarily on the ethical participation of children with disabilities and their parents. It gives us a snapshot of their lived lives and the challenges they face to achieve their rights.”
The study found that the negative factors faced by children with disabilities included the social stigma and negative social perceptions attached to disability; social pressure on children to "pass for normal"; costly and inappropriate medical treatment; and a widespread lack of services.
Dr Damaj, who led the research, stressed there were also positive aspects of their experience. "Children with disabilities naturally bloom when they are included in their society," she said.
Addressing the conference, Stephen Blight, head of UNICEF’s Child Protection in Sudan underscored the importance of the role played by the children involved and their parents. “The voices of children with disabilities and parents can be loudly heard in the study, and it is time for us – all of us with a duty and obligation for the fulfilment of children’s rights – to listen and learn,” he said.
The study involved all aspects of Sudan’s population (urban, rural, nomadic); all its regions (north, south, east and west); and all disabilities (physical, visual, hearing and intellectual disabilities). The research took place in some of the more remote states, such as Kassala, South Darfur and Sinnar which are far less developed in terms of infrastructure and opportunities than the capital Khartoum.
A prelaunch workshop brought 15 children with disabilities along with their parents to review the findings. Further discussion of how best to implement the report took place in round table talks involving national and state level policy makers and duty bearers following the launch.
During the launch, parents and children spoke of the need for children with disabilities to be given access to free education, saying that the cost of state school fees prevented many of them from going to school. One child, Asma, told the audience it was not only about education: "School is the best place to socialise and make friends."
Other issues raised by parents and children included the need for better trained teachers and medical professionals, and better access to services.
One of the parents, Amira, who has three children with disabilities, spoke of the need for better psychological support for parents – as well as their need to access free education.
She told the audience: “Our children are like any others, they deserve the best.”