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Children with disabilities among Syria’s most vulnerable

© UNICEF Jordan/2013/Jensen

By Malene Kamp Jensen

AMMAN, Jordan May, 2013 – When Abdulatif’s neighbor was killed, his own house destroyed and farm animals lost, the decision was made simple.  He had to flee the conflict in Syria to save his family.  But the journey and challenges that lied ahead was anything but easy, especially with two children with disabilities.

Abdulatif’s 15-year-old son with physical and mental disabilities is unable to walk.  "He was heavy so we had to take turns to carry him across the border," said Abdulatif.  The boy has not spoken a word since the fighting in Syria broke out and taking care of him in a fly-infested tent in a sprawling refugee camp in Za’atari, Jordan, is a challenge in itself.

Then there is the despair over Abdulatif’s four-year-old daughter who needs surgery to restore her hearing.

“Before the war broke out she had an operation in Syria to put in a device that could make her hear,” said Abdulatif.  After the operation, the little girl started to talk and was chatting away until one day, two months and 27 days after arriving to Jordan, when she too suddenly went silent.

Doctors in Jordan gave Abdulatif the agonizing news.  The piece that was implanted in her ear had stopped working, and the cost of a new devise here is over 10,000 dollars – money that the family has no way of obtaining.  They fled Syria with little else than the clothes on their backs.  

“I remember the exact time when her hearing device stopped working,” said Abdulatif, adding that he has spent practically every minute since trying to find a doctor or donor who could help his daughter hear again.  If not done before she turns seven, he worries that she might not regain her speech.

Children like Abdulatif’s are especially vulnerable to living a life of exclusion and poverty according to UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2013. Children with Disabilities report, released 30 May.  Children with disabilities are at added risk during times of disaster and emergency with the crisis in Syria being no exception.

Conflict can lead to physical injuries, extreme duress from witnessing traumatic events, a breakdown in health services, lack of access to proper food and safe water, and can leave children separated from families, homes and schools, sometimes for years.

Well over two-years into Syria’s conflict, some 80,000 people have been killed, including thousands of children, over 4.25 million people are internally displaced, while 1.5 million more have fled into neighbouring countries. 
Though data for children with disabilities is difficult to come by, the World Report on Disability suggest that there are around 93 million children under the age of 14 living with a moderate or severe disability.  But the figure could be much bigger.  For Syrian refugees or internally displaced, the percentage of children with disabilities is disproportionally high given the many injured or profoundly distressed as a result of the violence.

As needs rapidly outpace funds, the children of Syria are paying the highest price of the conflict - no one more so than those with disabilities, who risk being left out of the humanitarian response instead of taking their rightful place in helping to strengthen or rebuild their communities and countries. 
Abdulatif said he is determined not to have that happen to his daughter. 
“All I care about is this child," he said.  "I want her to hear again."



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