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UNICEF and Special Olympics partner in China to raise disability awareness

© UNICEF China/2007/Junchang
In Shanghai, China, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman observes a Special Olympics Global Youth Summit consultation on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

By Dale Rutstein

SHANGHAI, China, 3 October 2007 – Competitors from over 160 countries converged on Shanghai this week as the city offered up a glowing welcome for the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

And while more than 7,500 intellectually disabled athletes made final preparations for competition, UNICEF and Special Olympics International announced a new partnership to champion the cause of children with disabilities.

The partnership was launched today during a one-day Global Policy Summit on the Well-Being of People with Intellectual Disabilities. The two organizations will work together to raise public awareness, promote participation and empowerment of young people with disabilities and improve research and data-gathering efforts.

© UNICEF/2007/Pandian
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman speaks with Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics in 1968.

“This new partnership will help make the point that children with disabilities have the same rights as all other children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “They are entitled to adequate health care and quality education, and to live in an environment that protects them from abuse and exploitation.”

Ms. Veneman also spoke with the founder of the Special Olympics Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Ms. Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968 to provide year-round sports training and competition to 2.5 million adults and children with intellectual disabilities across 165 countries. The event was founded out of the belief that people with intellectual disabilities deserve the same opportunities and experiences as others.

Disabled children seek equal treatment

Meanwhile, a group of 60 youths from 16 countries took part in a UNICEF-sponsored consultation during another event, the Special Olympics Global Youth Summit. The consultation aims to create a child-friendly text of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

© UNICEF China/2007/Junchang
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman addresses the Global Policy Summit on the Well-Being of People with Intellectual Disabilities.

Adopted in 2006, the Convention has increased the status of disability as a human rights issue.

Marwa Marde, a special-needs youth attending the summit from Lebanon, said most of the other young people she met at the consultation don’t want special treatment; they want to be treated as equals. “Intellectually disabled children want to be able to attend the same schools as other children, and they want to able to study and be respected and accepted by everyone else,” she added.

Vulnerable to exploitation

The number of disabled children throughout the world is very difficult to estimate because statistics are scant and definitions of disability vary widely. Improving efforts to assess the situation of children with disabilities is a top priority of UNICEF.

© UNICEF China/2007/Junchang
Participants in the Special Olympics Global Youth Summit (right) interview Special Olympics athletes from South Africa in Shanghai.

The discrimination experienced by many children with disabilities means that they are less likely to have access to health care or education than other children. It can also undermine their self-esteem and their interaction with others, and make them more vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse.

The collaboration between UNICEF and the Special Olympics will initially focus on Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama and Uzbekistan, and will be expanded to additional countries in 2008.




3 October 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on events at the Special Olympics games being held in Shanghai, China.
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