Special Olympics and UNICEF join efforts to protect the rights of children with disabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean

The partnership will contribute so that more children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities can exercise their rights without any type of discrimination, through their active inclusion in sports.

10 August 2023
Atletas de Olimpiadas Especiales Panamá en una demostración del programa Atletas Jóvenes de Olimpiadas Especiales
Olimpiadas Especiales América Latina

Panama City, Panama. August 10, 2023.-In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is estimated that 19.1 million children have some type of disability1. Of these, 7 out of 10 boys, girls and adolescents of school age do not attend school2. Discrimination, the absence of adequate policies and legislation, and exclusion are some of the factors that prevent children with disabilities from having the same opportunities to exercise all their rights.

To change this reality, Special Olympics Latin America and the Caribbean and UNICEF renew their partnership to support boys and girls with disabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean, by promoting spaces that allow the inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities in their communities.

"This partnership marks a pivotal moment in our shared mission to defend the rights of all boys and girls, regardless of their abilities," said Claudia Echeverry, Chairman and Regional Director of Special Olympics Latin America. "By joining forces with UNICEF, together we will work to ensure that boys and girls with and without intellectual disabilities in the region have equal opportunities to develop to their full potential, championing inclusion and driving change to create a legacy of empowerment that inspires the next generations".

The alliance aims to promote the rights of children with disabilities in the region, especially through the implementation of the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, which offers children with and without intellectual disabilities opportunities to develop their fitness, socialize better with their peers, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and share their skills with the community. The program, which reaches more than 26,000 children in the region, has shown improvement results of up to 7 months3 when it comes to motor development of the participants. Likewise, the impact of Young Athletes has a ripple effect that extends the benefits beyond the participants in the program to the family and the community, serving as a catalyst for change and a mechanism to improve the social inclusion of people with disabilities.

“Children with disabilities and their families face barriers that limit their rights. We cannot leave them behind. It is our collective task to build more equitable and inclusive societies, where children with disabilities can fully and equally enjoy their rights. Together with our partner Special Olympics, we will foster, through sport activities, the social and emotional development of children with disabilities”.
-Garry Conille, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

A UNICEF Report (2021)4 revealed that boys and girls with disabilities are at a disadvantage compared to boys and girls without disabilities on most measures of child well-being. Among them, the lag in access to education stands out. The report indicates that children and adolescents with difficulties in communicating and caring for themselves are the most likely to be out of school, regardless of their educational level.

Compared to boys and girls without disabilities, boys and girls with disabilities are:

  • 24% less likely to receive early stimulation and responsive care;
  • 42% less likely to have basic reading and arithmetic skills;
  • 25% more likely to suffer emaciation and 34% more likely to be stunted;
  • 53% more likely to have acute respiratory infection symptoms;
  • 49% more likely to never have attended school;

The protection of the rights of girls, boys and adolescents with disabilities has been an integral part of the UNICEF and Special Olympics agenda. Both organizations have maintained a global alliance since 2011 to integrate boys and girls with disabilities into strategies and programs for development and provide sustained social integration to a population that is often on the margins of societies around the world.

[1] https://www.unicef.org/lac/media/29431/file/Children-with-disabilities-Report_Advance.pdf
[2] https://www.unicef.org/lac/ninos-ninas-y-adolescentes-con-discapacidad
[3] Favazza, PC, Siperstein, GN (2012). Young Athletes Project: Final Report. Washington, DC: Special Olympics, Inc.
[4] https://www.unicef.org/lac/media/29431/file/Children-with-disabilities-Report_Advance.pdf

Media contacts

Sendai Zea
Communication Specialist (Emergencies)
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507 6821 0843

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UNICEF works in some of the world's toughest places, to reach the world's most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.   

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/lac/en.

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About Special Olympics

Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster the acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health, and leadership. With more than six million athletes and United Partners in more than 190 countries and territories and more than one million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics offers more than 30 Olympic-type sports. With a presence in 20 countries in the region, Special Olympics Latin America reaches more than 389,000 athletes with and without intellectual disabilities, who participate in more than 7,000 sports competitions each year. Connect with us at: Facebook, Twitter, instagram, and Youtube. Read more at www.specialolympics.org