UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the 2nd Global Disability Summit

As prepared for delivery

16 February 2022

NEW YORK, 16 February 2022 – "On behalf of UNICEF, I thank the Governments of Norway and Ghana and the International Disability Alliance for your commitment to making sure that every child is seen, counted, and included.

"I especially want to express our gratitude to Norway for its extraordinary generosity – and for its leadership to promote the rights of children with disabilities. I look forward to building on our strong partnership.

"At the first Global Disability Summit, my predecessor, Henrietta Fore, talked about translating our commitments to children with disabilities into action. Since then, UNICEF has worked hard to meet that challenge.     

"Over the last four years, our programmes have reached over 2.2 million children with disabilities.  We are incorporating inclusion for children with disabilities into our programme work in 144 UNICEF country offices and providing vital support to millions of children and their families. For example, in 2020, UNICEF supported inclusive education in 131 countries and provided assistive devices and products to 152,000 children with disabilities.

"UNICEF has also worked hard to deliver on our 2018 commitment to increase the availability of reliable data about children with disabilities. In November 2021, UNICEF released its most comprehensive statistical analysis of data on the 240 million children with disabilities in the world today. The evidence is sobering.

"Compared to their peers, children with disabilities are more likely to be stunted. They are almost 50 per cent more likely to have never attended school. They are more likely to be forced into child labor and to experience severe corporal punishment. Stigma and discrimination further undermine their confidence and wellbeing.

"Children with disabilities have the same right as every other child to reach their full potential. Denying them this right doesn’t only harm individual children, it also deprives their societies of everything they could contribute if only their needs were met.

"So, these data are an urgent alarm – especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated so many of the challenges children with disabilities face.

"UNICEF is calling for children to be at the center of global, national, and local COVID-19 response and recovery plans. We will continue to advocate for children with disabilities to be included in this recovery -- and beyond.

"Pulling down the barriers and achieving disability inclusion will require sustained engagement and action at the national, regional, and global levels. It will require greater investment and greater accountability, and greater coordination.

"UNICEF pledges to do our part, and we all need to do more, because children with disabilities need -- and have a right to -- more.

"I want to conclude with an excerpt from a letter written by a boy living in Kosovo. In his letter, he reflects on the similarity between the isolation of pandemic lockdowns to the social isolation so many children with disabilities experience.

"He wrote, 'Perhaps these days will help everyone, politicians and society, to reflect on this isolation and do more to include children living with disabilities in education and social life; and to make this as possible for them as it is for everyone else.'

"That is our charge – and the new generation represented here today will hold us accountable. I look forward to working with all of you to build a world where every child is seen, counted, and included."


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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.

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