Child protection: Disability can lead to a lack of education and opportunities
Director of “Mehr Tayanchi” children’s centre in Tashkent, Davron M. Mahmudov, describes how the centre is changing young people’s lives.
When our doctor brought Artem to the Centre, his appearance was striking. He had not washed for several days, his face and hands were filthy, his clothes were ragged and his shoes were old and worn out. He averted his eyes and hung his head in what appeared to be shame or embarrassment.
I sent him to the doctor to find out if he suffered from any diseases or infections. After the medical examination, he took a shower, had his hair cut and was given clean clothes that we had received as humanitarian aid. He looked much more comfortable and most interestingly, he smiled and his eyes were shining. He did avert his eyes and looked at me openly.
“My name is Artem, I’m 16 years old and from Tashkent. I lived with my parents in Chilanzar district. My father’s name is Oleg. I do not remember his last name. He left us years ago. My mother is Svetlana. She is over 50 now. I also have a stepbrother whose name is Marat.
Marat is about 30 years old and currently in prison. This is his third time in prison. I don’t remember the reason for the first, but the second conviction was related to drugs for which he was sentenced to 6 years. This time he got 18 years for murder.
When I was 11, my grandmother, Roza invited me and my mother to come to live with her in Akhangaran. My mother refused to go, I do not know why. But I went to live with my grandmother. I last saw my mother 5 years ago and now I do not know where she is. She never came to visit me in Akhangaran. It hurts me a lot to think about her. When I lived with her, it felt so nice. When she was in a good mood she was always hugging and kissing me. But a lot of the time she was crying. I don’t know why even now and when I ask my grandmother she says that I’ll understand it when I am older.”
When Artem spoke about his mum he was tense and his eyes became sad. As he speaks he rests his right arm on his knee and he does not move it a lot. It seemed shorter than the left one.
Artem continues “I didn’t go to school before Akhangaran because I was shy. I was born with a disability, my right arm is shorter than the left. Children mocked me at school, I didn’t feel comfortable there. When I moved to Akhangaran, my grandmother took me to a school for mentally retarded children. When I was 15 I left the school. I did not learn much there, I can read, but I can hardly write.”
Artem began to visit the Centre regularly. His behavior began to change and he became more relaxed and sociable. After a number of visits to the Centre I asked our lawyer to speak with Artem and to find out why he is reluctant to go back to Akhangaran. Later, having talked with the lawyer, Artem decided to go back to Akhangaran and the lawyer joined him for the trip. Roza was very happy to see Artem back home. He currently lives in Ahangaran, but sometimes comes to Tashkent and visits the Centre.
A matter of survival
Artem explains how he survives. “Sometimes I beg or help bus or trolley-bus conductors, maybe wash cars or help people in the market. It is not possible to earn much in Akhangaran. My money goes on cigarettes. I also used to sniff glue, but I’ve stopped now.”
During my last meeting with Artem, he asked me to help him with his passport, as he was now 16-years old. He had lost his birth certificate long ago. We found out where he was born and got a certificate from the hospital. We’ll do what we can to help Artem with his passport and we will also try to get him a disability pension.
At “Mehr Tayanchi” we have a doctor, a psychologist, a social worker and a lawyer based here. We do as much as we can to help and support Artem and many other young people like him.
“Mehr Tayanchi” is a member of the Uzbekistan NGO Network, supported by UNICEF Uzbekistan.