Engaging Children with Disabilities in Policy and Legislative Dialogue
“Hearing the direct voice of children, including children with disabilities, is of paramount importance."
Harare, Zimbabwe-UNICEF, in partnership with the Office of the Advisor to the President and Cabinet on Disability Issues, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, and the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs have begun to conduct nationwide stakeholder consultations to formulate a National Disability Policy, and to repeal the outdated Disabled Persons Act (1992).
The consultations, which will run until the end of March 2020, are ensuring the active involvement of persons with disabilities including children with disabilities in the ongoing policy and legislative making process.
At a planning meeting of the consultations held in Harare, Laylee Moshiri, Representative for UNICEF Zimbabwe said that the needs and concerns of children with disabilities are commonly constructed from hearsay and second-hand narratives which draw the viewpoints of parents, guardians, service providers and advocates, without much consultation of the children.
“Hearing the direct voice of children, including children with disabilities, is of paramount importance, because it reduces the risk of mis-representation of children’s needs, concerns and experiences by adults, in ways that may be detrimental to the children’s well-being,” she said.
The Advisor to the President and Cabinet on Disability Issues, Joshua Malinga applauded the ongoing consultative process. “It is providing persons with disabilities including children with disabilities with the opportunity to represent themselves in national dialogue,” he said.
12-year-old Danai from Masvingo Province said she is pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the discussions.
“This disability policy should say something about orphans with disabilities and wheelchairs because my wheelchair is now worn out. Our parents died so I live with my sister who is doing the job of buying and selling vegetables, but the money is not enough to buy a wheelchair. I can just say, I live in my wheelchair because the only time that I get off it, is when I am bathing or sleeping. Our parents’ relatives do not want to help us, they think that I became disabled because my parents were doing witchcraft so they just say to us ‘fend for yourselves’ – but it’s hard,” she said.
In part, Danai’s narrative points to Article 20 (b) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), which directs states parties to ensure “access by persons with disabilities to quality mobility aids, devices, assistive technologies and forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including by making them available at affordable cost.”
The narrative also illuminates the need for disability awareness raising campaigns so that social norms that may be harmful to children with disabilities are addressed.
11-year-old Tendai also from Masvingo, spoke of the importance of access to information.
“I hear people who talk on TV say, ‘if you need more information contact the telephone numbers that are written below, or go to the physical address that is written below.’ They forget that some of us are blind and we cannot see the printed numbers or addresses.
The TV must give the information both by voice and by print, so that blind people can hear and deaf people can see and persons without these disabilities can do whatever they like and we all benefit,” he said.
“The Ministry is happy to be partnering with UNICEF to ensure that all relevant stakeholders including children with disabilities participate in the ongoing disability policy and disability bill formulation process,” said Felicity Mangwende a Social Welfare Officer in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare said.
The participation of persons with disabilities in the development and implementation of policies is one of the key components of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy which was launched by the Secretary General in June, 2019. As such, and within the framework of its partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe, UNICEF-Zimbabwe is supporting close consultation and active involvement of persons with disabilities.
Christine Peta is a disability consultant with UNICEF