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Humanitarian Action

Children living with disabilities in humanitarian crises

Cover of the covid-19 disability guidance

COVID-19: Considerations for Children and Adults with Disabilities

We are pleased to share a guidance note on considerations for children and adults with disabilities in the COVID-19 response. The guidance describes what we need to know about the situation of persons with disabilities in COVID-19 response, and what we need to do in five key points..The guidance will be revised as the situation evolves.

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The experience of children with disabilities is often one of marginalization and disempowerment, as many live isolated lives and struggle against stigma, discrimination and an environment that does not accommodate their needs, and excludes them from social participation. 

The 2011 Secretary-General report on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child indicates that in times of humanitarian crisis, including armed conflict and natural disasters, children with disabilities and their families become even more vulnerable and, if and when they survive, face a higher risk of being becoming victims of injury, abuse and neglect. Children with disabilities face particular challenges during humanitarian crises. 

They may: be unable to escape due to inaccessible evacuation routes; lose access to support services and assistive technology; lose an assistive devise and/or caregiver and thus be extremely vulnerable to physical violence, and to sexual, emotional and verbal abuse; be invisible in registration, data collection or needs assessments; be excluded from or unable to access mainstream assistance programmes such as health centre or food distribution due both to physical barriers (i.e. lack of accessible buildings) or to the struggle against negative attitudes and uncompromising environments.  Moreover humanitarian crises may result in life-long injuries for children. 

Children with disabilities have the right to be included in different activities that are developed during humanitarian interventions, including health care, education and so on, even if they may need additional support in the beginning and the structures to which support is given may require some special adaptations. Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) specifically calls on duty bearers to take necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of conflict, emergency and disaster, signifying the importance of the issue. UNICEF is committed to strengthening disability-inclusive humanitarian action which means that emergency preparedness and response promote and protect the rights of children with disabilities, as well as their families, to survive and to live with dignity, while benefiting the population as a whole. 

UNICEF’s Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action (CCCs) outline an organizational commitment to deliver a set of humanitarian assistance for all children regardless of their status or context. UNICEF recognizes that providing for children with disabilities in situations of conflict, disaster and displacement is complex, but that effective actions can be taken to tailor humanitarian programmes to be inclusive of all children, including those living with disabilities in the interest of creating a basis for inclusive long term protection and support.

When crisis strikes, UNICEF works to ensure that the rights and needs of children with disabilities and their families are not neglected, that their voices are heard and that new injuries are prevented.  Such disability-inclusive humanitarian action is informed by and grounded in key principles and programming approaches based on equity, gender equality, human rights, humanitarian principles and participation.

Disability-inclusive humanitarian response calls for holistic and inclusive programmes, rather than just isolated projects and policies targeting disabilities. 

Key intervention areas for disability-inclusive humanitarian action include:

  • Improving data and assessments to have an evidence base for the distinct needs and priorities of children with disabilities;

  • Making mainstream humanitarian services accessible for children with disabilities, including involving them in planning and design;

  • Designing specialized services for children with disabilities and ensuring physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration take place in environments that foster well-being, health, self-respect and dignity;

  • Putting measures in place to prevent injuries and abuse and promote accessibility of services and information; 

  • Ensuring children with disabilities are identified and counted in registration, data collection or needs assessments; 

  • Partnering with community, regional and national-level actors, including disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs), to challenge discriminatory attitudes and perceptions and promote equity and equality for all;

  • Promoting participation of children with disabilities including by creating spaces for voices of children with disabilities to be heard and creating opportunities for consultation and participation in designing the response.

Key References

Photo Caption: Haiti 2010, Madeline Mergis visits with her 12-year-old nephew, Monel, at a field hospital set up near Port-au-Prince.



Risk Communication

father and son sitting on stoop talking
COVID-19: Engaging with Children and Adults with Disabilities

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Discussion paper

cover of disabilities and armed conflict report
Children with Disabilities in Situations of Armed Conflict:
A Discussion Paper - 2018
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