Across Europe and Central Asia, children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to stigma and discrimination, and are often segregated. They may not appear in national statistics, becoming ‘invisible’ to decision makers, service providers and the public.
While data on the estimated 5.1 million children with disabilities across the region remain scarce, we know they face multiple rights violations, from a lack of early detection or diagnosis of their disabilities, to exclusion from education and participation in their communities.
The violations of their rights are often severe.
The exclusion of children with disabilities is exacerbated when they belong to another disadvantaged group. One example would be a Roma girl with a visible disability who has been trafficked to beg on the streets. Or a Syrian refugee child with disabilities in Turkey, whose family faces poverty.
The violations of their rights are often severe: worldwide, up to 68 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys with intellectual or developmental disabilities will be sexually abused before their 18 birthday.
A tendency to want to ‘fix’ children with disabilities – rather than changing attitudes towards them – prevails. The focus is on medical responses to correct ‘defects’ rather than wider support to help children reach their potential.
The region lacks services to identify and diagnose child disability at an early age and provide tailored support for families. As a result, children with disabilities are often placed in institutional care, an approach justified as being in their ‘best interests’. Worldwide, children with disabilities are up to 17 times more likely to live in institutions than other children.
Stigma may stop families from asking for help or information.
Millions of children with disabilities are thought to be out of school across Europe and Central Asia. Many are still excluded from mainstream education and consigned to so-called ‘special schools’. Some teachers still refuse to educate children with disabilities, and some parents fear that their children’s education will suffer if they share the classroom with a child who has a disability.