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Zimbabwe, 17 March 2015: Government and UNICEF launch report on disability

© UNICEF 2015
Like all children, those with disabilities have many abilities, but are often excluded from society by discrimination and lack of support, leaving them among the most invisible and vulnerable children in the world.

By Richard Nyamanhindi

Sixteen year-old Onai (which ironically means to see) grew up being told she was cursed by God. Blind and deaf from birth, she spent most of her time locked up in the house in rural Masvingo in southern Zimbabwe, often sitting motionless in the dark for hours.

She was left alone as her siblings went to school and the adults worked the fields. When she needed to move, Onai used to bump into obstacles, some which left her with scars for life. From the threshold of her house she was a loner who could not play and have fun with other children.

For a child of her age, Onai looked gaunt and lifeless. Most days, she was fed just once. Friendless and neglected, she lacked nutrition, hygiene, clothing and care.

Her family saw her as a life-long liability they wish they never had. They did not see any value in sending her to school for the bother of accompanying her and the challenges she would face - being mocked by other children at school.

In 2007, however life changed for Onai when she was sent to Capota School of the Blind in Masvingo. Since then, she has been learning how to communicate and has been making steady progress. She can now count, knit, cook, take instruction and even plays with other children her age.

Like all children, those with disabilities have many abilities, but are often excluded from society by discrimination and lack of support, leaving them among the most invisible and vulnerable children in the world.

In light of the problems facing people with disabilities particularly children, the Government of Zimbabwe through the Ministries of Health and Child Care; Primary and Secondary Education and that of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and UNICEF have launched the first ever national flagship report called Living Conditions Among Persons with Disability. The report brings attention to the urgent needs of people with disabilities in Zimbabwe.

This ground breaking report, produced in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZIMSTATS) with funding from the Swedish Government, reveals that fewer individuals with disability have ever attended formal education and that people with disabilities are more exposed to physical and sexual abuse if compared to their counterparts living without disabilities. An almost similar report was conducted almost a decade ago and mapped the living conditions of people living with disabilities in five provinces of the country.

Based upon a sample population of 15,368 households in all the 10 Provinces of the country, the report compares data from people with a disability including children to those without.

Key findings include:

  • 19 per cent of children with disabilities did not proceed beyond Grade 7 compared to 14.6 per cent in the control group and the percentage increases for those proceeding to Form 4.
  • When children with disabilities attend school, their level of schooling is below that of their peers – literacy rates among people with disability is 77 per cent while that of the control group is at 93 per cent.
  • Children with disabilities are much more likely to have had a serious illness that can lead to death in the last 12 months, including high blood pressure, malaria and HIV and AIDS. 

As highlighted by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Brigadier General, Dr. G. Gwinji during the launch, the key findings from the report will help the Government of Zimbabwe and other development partners to improve responses to the needs of people with disabilities, particularly their health and education.

“Our vision is to see persons with disability enjoying quality health care like any other citizen in Zimbabwe. We hope that all stakeholders will use the evidence from this report to achieve an inclusive Zimbabwe which enables all persons to live a life of health, comfort and dignity,” said Dr. Gwinji.

Presenting the report findings, UNICEF’s Deputy Representative Dr. Jane Muita said children with disabilities the world over face many challenges unlike their able bodied peers.

“First, it [The Report] brings to light the stigma and discrimination that children with disabilities face. Disability in children is an issue that in many societies would rather be hidden than talked about. This is because these children and their families are seen as somehow being at fault; disability is viewed as a consequence of something wrong the child or family have done,” said Dr. Muita.

Dr. Muita also noted that the study is important because it gives useful data on the extent and prevalence of disabilities in Zimbabwe.

“We now know that 900,000 individuals out of the total population of 13 million have some form of disability. We also know that the most prevalent types of disability are related to seeing, walking, hearing, and remembering. But knowing the numbers is only the first step. The next step is to ask ourselves why these disabilities are happening….knowing the numbers helps us to design and cost interventions that ensure these children are not being left behind, Dr. Muita added.

Also speaking at the launch during a question and answer session Mr. Farai Mukuta of the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) said persons with disabilities continue to be the poorest of the poor mainly due to the unfavorable economic situation and predominantly because of the negative attitudes society continues to have towards them.

The report recommends that Government, development partners and communities must continue to fight against the discrimination and barriers that prevent children with disabilities from fully participating in public life. It encourages communities to include children with disabilities in decisions that affect them – not just as beneficiaries, but as agents of change.



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