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Zimbabwe, 13 December 2011: UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador Prudence Mabhena

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2011
Prudence Mabhena, 24, was Born with arthrogryposis, a congenital disorder that causes muscle weakness and limited movement.

Giving hope to persons living with disabilities

By Elizabeth  Mupfumira

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 13 December 2011 - Growing up with severe disabilities, Prudence Mabhena, 24, has overcome insurmountable challenges to become an inspiration to many, showing that ‘disability does not mean inability’.

 Her recent appointment as UNICEF Zimbabwe’s National Goodwill Ambassador on children’s rights, especially children living with disabilities, will give her a spring board to inspire more children and young people to rise above their adversities.

Born with arthrogryposis, a congenital disorder that causes muscle weakness and limited movement, Mabhena was abandoned by her parents and left in the care of her grandmother. Nevertheless, she has managed to overcome both physical challenges and social exclusion, and achieved global recognition as a musician and advocate.

Her life was featured in the 2010 Oscar Academy Award winning documentary, ‘Music by Prudence’.

“I am grateful to be in a position where I can inspire hope and confidence in other children who are living with disabilities,” said Prudence. “I have empowered myself through my music and I believe that there is nothing stopping me from achieving my dreams.”

Although data on the situation of children and adults with disabilities in Zimbabwe is not readily available, but according to the 2002 census, there were 349,000 people living with disabilities in Zimbabwe, with almost 25 percent of them under the age of 19.

 In addition, a 2004 report by Save the Children Norway found that sexual abuse of children with disabilities was increasing in Zimbabwe, with 87 percent of girls with disabilities having been sexually abused. Approximately 48 percent of these girls were mentally challenged, 16 percent had hearing impairments and 25 percent had visible physical disabilities.

 Of those who had been sexually abused, more than half tested positive for HIV.

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2011
Prudence Mabhena with Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe.

Effort to enhance change

In the past two years, the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe in collaboration with the United Nations agencies, including UNICEF, civil society organizations, and the international donor community, has invested significant resources to ensure the realization of the rights of all Zimbabwe’s children and young people, including those living with disabilities. 

The Disabilities Act is intended to benefit persons living with disabilities, while the Constitution prohibits discrimination. In addition, the recently approved 2012 National Budget has allocated US$2 million towards supporting disabled persons.

With UNICEF’s advocacy and support, 3,200 braille textbooks in the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Environmental Science and Shona, were made available through the Education Transition Fund. This undertaking has helped bring the textbook and pupil ratio to 1:1 for Zimbabwe’s primary schools, and given the children and young people living with disabilities an equal opportunity for learning and realizing their right to quality education.

 At the same time, the National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (NAP II) ensures that the most vulnerable children in Zimbabwe, including those living with disabilities, are able to secure their basic rights to quality social protection and child protection services.

“Although the challenges she faced are beyond imagination, the fact that Prudence has overcome them is a powerful statement that opportunities are indeed available to us, and each and every one of us can play a part in helping children and young people with disabilities to reach their full potential,” said Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe. “Clearly, her personal experiences help her to articulate the issues affecting other young people and children living with disabilities.”



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