UNICEF, partners, children and families succeed in reducing stigma toward children with disabilities

Over the past years, UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina has significantly contributed to the social inclusion of children with disabilities by providing better access to social services.

UNICEF
Ajna playing in nature. Ajna participated in UNICEF campaign It's about abillity five years ago
UNICEF/Čalkić

31 December 2018

Edna (15) attends the first grade of the Grammar school in Sarajevo. She is also a gold medal winning ski champion, successful swimmer, and occasionally, an actress. When Edna met her peer Lucy Meyer, UNICEF and Special Olympics Ambassador, two of them immediately started chatting in English. Edna is one of the most popular girls at her school, and a trendsetter among her peers.

But, it was not always this way. Edna was born with Down Syndrome.

Edna Šunjić, two gold medalist at the Special Olympics, playing wtih her friends
UNICEF/Đemidžić

One of the major issues affecting children with disabilities and their families is social stigma and discrimination. UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina data from a 2013 survey on knowledge, attitudes and practices of Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens towards inclusion of children with disabilities, revealed that more than 50% of those surveyed would not allow a child with socio-emotional difficulties to be  best friends with their child, more than 40% of respondents considered that children with disabilities should attend special schools and finally - only 20% of respondents saw any positive results from  the social inclusion of children with disabilities.

Over the past years, UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina has contributed significantly to the social inclusion of children with disabilities by enabling better access to social services, such as day/respite care, counselling and referrals, early detection and intervention services, inclusive education and improved care and protection services, reaching over 6,000 children and families.

In parallel, social mobilisation and awareness raising campaigns and initiatives brought the faces and abilities of these children closer to the Bosnia and Herzegovina public, promoting their social inclusion. According to media estimates, the “It’s About Ability” campaign reached 500,000 citizens. Thousands of children with disabilities have demonstrated their talents for making movies, acting, modelling, photography, journalism and sports, and over 10,000 of them participated in public events with some 20 celebrities joining them. In 2018, UNICEF ran a competition for “Champions of Inclusion,” which recognized over 20 individuals who contribute to children’s ability to reach their full potential, who promote the inclusion and full participation of children with disabilities as well as those without disabilities.

Ajna enjoying therapeutic horseriding. Ajna participated in UNICEF campaign It's about abillity five years ago
UNICEF/Čalkić
Becir  who participated in UNICEF campaign It's about abillity spending quallity time with his brother.
UNICEF/Čalkić

To create a more enabling policy environment, UNICEF helped develop and advocated successfully for rights-based strategies on Persons with Disabilities, including specific clauses on the rights of children with disabilities in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, both ratified by Bosnia and Herzegovina.

To increase access to services for children with disabilities at the municipal level, UNICEF has enabled the establishment of multi-sectoral working groups tasked with developing budgeted, local action plans to reach the most vulnerable children with quality services in over 40 municipalities.

Aiming to improve the quality of education for children with disabilities, UNICEF and Ministries of Education are helping teachers to apply child-centred Inclusive Education teaching and learning approaches for all children including children with disabilities.

With all these efforts by UNICEF and partners in many sectors, there has been real progress. According to a 2018 survey on the knowledge, attitudes and practices of Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens towards the inclusion of children with disabilities, the percentage of people who would not accept their child to be best friends with a child with disabilities, decreased to 11% (compared to 50% in 2013). This major change in attitudes was achieved in less than 5 years.

"We are proud and happy knowing that we contributed to this important social change. Having significantly decreased prejudices and stigma against children with disabilities, we will now work even harder to promote inclusive education and empowerment of children with disabilities. We will also maintain our efforts to remove these children from institutions, promote family-based care for them, and transform the institutions to provide family support services, prevention of family separation, and early intervention for vulnerable families.” UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina Representative, Geeta Narayan said.