Children with disabilities need multi-sector action to be able to fulfil their potential and take up their rightful place in society

Statement by UNICEF Representative Patrizia DiGiovanni on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

03 December 2023
Portrait of a boy with visual impairment
UNICEF/North Macedonia/Georgiev/2017

Skopje, 3 December 2023 – “Every year on International Day of Persons with Disabilities the world comes together to promote an understanding of disability issues and to mobilise support for the rights and well-being of people with disabilities.

“This year, as the country marks 30 years exactly since it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we recognise the progress the country has achieved for children, but also recognise the need to intensify and accelerate efforts for those who are at risk of being left behind – children with disabilities.

“In their most recent Concluding Observations of the country’s progress, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted much progress for children with disabilities. Among them include the implementation of the new disability assessment model with a human rights approach, the National Deinstitutionalization Strategy (2018-2027) and the adoption of the Law on Primary Education as a legal basis for the inclusion of children with disabilities in the general education system. However, much more work is needed and advancing the rights of children with disabilities is one of the five areas that the Committee is calling for urgent measures.

“Overall, the progress achieved builds on the growing understanding that children with disabilities can realize their full potential if society changes the way it sees them, and that inclusion can only be improved if we change the ways we assess the needs of children with disability and remove the barriers that prevent them from participating.

“The introduction of the human rights-based disability assessment model throughout the country is key to creating a single-entry point for children and youth with disability to the system of support services in healthcare, education, and social protection. While the country has established five regional assessment teams to support the implementation, there is a need to ensure that the existing teams are adequately staffed, and additional teams are established to cover the needs of all children in every region throughout the country.

“The overall progress for children with disabilities in the country also builds on the growing understanding that children with disabilities who receive quality care and development opportunities, especially in the early years of life, are more likely to reach their full potential and enjoy productive lives. Early detection and intervention of developmental delays are critical to ensure children receive timely support.

“However, state-level early childhood development screenings and early childhood intervention services are either rare or do not exist at all, putting many children at risk and leaving them unregistered for services. Furthermore, there are large inequalities in the provision of services, with families in rural areas, smaller ethnic communities as well as those with low-income remaining significantly underserved.

“The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that the country should strengthen the early detection and intervention programs and improve specialized health care and age-appropriate rehabilitation. The patronage nurse service is best placed to contribute to developing a multi-sector approach; but there is an urgent need for continued investment to increase the number of patronage nurses and improve the quality of service.  

“The multi-sector systemic solution also needs to ensure services are delivered through child and social protection and education systems so that every child at preschool age (0-6 years of age), either with a risk factor for developmental delays and/or disabilities, are provided with early childhood intervention services when they need them most. 

“When it comes to education, the country has made progress to ensure children with disabilities learn in an inclusive setting alongside their peers. As of this school year, all children with disabilities are enrolled in mainstream primary schools. This success should be extended to secondary education. Adopting the new law on secondary education is a needed step in this direction, but inclusion in education requires more investment and effective use of resources to ensure schools meet the needs of all children.

“Public funds that are transferred to municipalities for supporting inclusion in education are not being systematically spent for that purpose and more efforts are needed to ensure funds are utilised for adjusting infrastructure and meeting other conditions for creating an inclusive environment in schools.

“Lastly, for inclusion to continue to improve, the country needs to make children with disabilities visible and promote positive norms, equity, diversity and inclusion Improving data on children with disabilities and continuing to address stigma, stereotypes and prejudices that contribute to their marginalization and discrimination in accessing health, education, and protection services will greatly contribute to their empowerment.

“This year UNICEF is also celebrating its own 30th Anniversary in the country. In three decades of our work for children, it never mattered who they are. What always mattered is reaching children at greatest risk and in greatest need like children with disabilities.  Now, together with our partners, UNICEF remains even more committed to continue to work for every child, including children with disabilities.”

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