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Opening remarks for the Malaysian Launch of SOWC 2013


By Wivina Belmonte
UNICEF Representative, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, 03 June 2013

Good morning honourable guests, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for your presence here today. And your participation at this important roundtable discussion.

Let me also thank you for allowing us to use this occasion, to launch UNICEF's annual flagship publication – the State of the World's Children – which this year focuses on Children with Disabilities.

This report is a departure for UNICEF. It is unlike previous Reports, which typically start with a statistic, highlighting a global problem that afflicts children.

The girls and boys to whom this edition of the State of the World's Children is dedicated are not problems.

A child is not disabled because they cannot walk, see or hear. They are disabled by a society that excludes them. So our report this year brings attention to OUR blind spot – as we remind ourselves that we need to see the child, before the disability.

It is a tragic irony that children who so often stand out because of their disability – who are so often targeted because of their disability – subject to teasing, to stigma, to humiliation, to violence – are too often INVISIBLE when it comes to policies, services and compassion.

No one group has its right compromised more consistently or more cruelly, than children with disabilities. When they're not objects of pity, they're frequently targets of abuse. Discrimination on the grounds of disability is a form of oppression. It pushes children and their families to the margins, and subjects them to multiple deprivations;

§ - Globally, they're three to four times more likely to be subjected to violence than other children.

§ - Children with disabilities experience multiple challenges. Including difficulty in accessing education and an increase risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.

§ - Left off birth registers, hidden behind closed doors, shut away in institutions and stigmatize, they are too often over-looked an under-estimated.

They're not only excluded. They're forgotten.

The reason so many of YOU are here today is because you share our conviction that when we see the disability before the child, it is not only wrong for the child, it also deprives society of all that child has to offer.

So today, we are building on the leadership Malaysia has already shown. Malaysia already has important policy and legal frameworks for people with disabilities; the 2007 national policy for persons with disabilities and the national plan of action for persons with disabilities, the 2008 persons with disabilities Act. And in 2010 Malaysia was among the first to sign and ratify the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The challenge is shifting real commitment into relevant action. And that's what brings us together today – to discuss and address the gaps in implementation; gaps in access to health, education and other essential services for children with disabilities in Malaysia. Public awareness and education on issues of disability are still required, as are strong social support systems and referral mechanisms. There is also a dire need for the collection of adequate statistical data on children with disabilities. And we need to make sure that data is used in the development of policies and programmes for these children.

We want to acknowledge the work of the Social Welfare Department in this regard. And congratulate them on the award they received in March of this year, for their online registration programme, which makes it easier for the community of people living with disabilities to register for benefits with them, and with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of higher Education, Road and Transport Department an Inland Revenue Board. The online registration is available in all 14 states, and all 104 districts.

The data is crucial – as a guide for allocating resources and support to children and their families.

All of us have a role to play in removing barriers to inclusion and participation as well as providing a loving and nurturing environment to better support children with disabilities and their families.

UNICEF's annual State of the World's Children's report calls for a fundamental change in the way children with disabilities are viewed and treated, with a focus on the abilities of these children – rather than what they cannot do. The report recognizes that these barriers are often more disabling than any impairment itself.

We are convinced such a shift would benefit the child, their family and society as a whole.
We are convinced, because we have the evidence that proves it is so.

UNICEF has worked with partners and communities all over the globe to support inclusive education.

The merit of such schools is not only that they are capable of providing quality education to all children, they also help change discriminatory attitudes, by creating welcoming communities and building inclusive societies.

Schools that include everybody, celebrate differences, support learning, and respond to individual needs.

The discrimination children with disabilities face, arises from social exclusion so entrenched, that it traps these children and their families in a life of poverty, social isolation, ignorance and lack of services and support. Time an again we've seen inclusive education radically change that dynamic.

On behalf of UNICEF, I thank you for your active participation in today's roundtable.

I hope that this year's State of the World's Children and our roundtable will help push the agenda of children with disabilities forward in Malaysia, and serve to recognise the potential they have to live their lives to the fullest.

I would like to conclude with something that I hope will set the tone for the upcoming roundtable.

Children are not disabled because they cannot see, read or hear, they are disabled because society excludes them.

Every child has something to contribute, as long as they're given the chance.

Thank you.


For further information, please contact:

Indra Kumari Nadchatram,
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
(+6.03) 2095 9157
+6012 292 6872

Sasha Surandran,
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
(+6.03) 2095 9154 ext. 2236
+6012 658 5160





Wivina Belmonte - UNICEF Representative, Malaysia

Ms. Wivina Belmonte

State of the World's Children 2013

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