Home » Human Rights » All Children Deserve a Chance in Life [opinion]

Upon reading the Key Findings Report on the Living Conditions Among People with Disabilities (2013), a national survey whose results were disseminated by the Ministry of Health and Child Care on March 17, 2015, one wonders how is it that we have 900 000 people out of 13 million Zimbabweans with some form of disability?

While it’s a fact that through early detection and screening, 65 percent of those living with a disability could have had the disability prevented, one wonders why the country in this day and age is still recording such high numbers of disabilities.

One wonders about the children living with a disability, their specific vulnerabilities, and their unique opportunities as children, to survive and thrive, and reach their full potential.

All children have hopes and dreams – including children with disabilities.

And all children deserve a fair chance to make their dreams real.

And when given that chance, children with disabilities are more than capable of overcoming barriers to their inclusion, of taking their rightful place as equal participants in society and of enriching the life of their communities.

But for far too many children with disabilities, the opportunity to participate simply does not exist. Far too often, children with disabilities are among the last in line for resources and services, especially where these are scarce to begin with. Far too regularly, they are the objects simply of pity or, worse, discrimination, stigmatisation and abuse.

It is small wonder, then, that children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable to low self-esteem and feelings of isolation. No child should be defined by a disability. Each child is unique and has the right to be respected as such.

When societies embrace inclusive principles and demonstrate this support for equity in practice, children with disabilities are able to enjoy the same rights and choices as other children.

Enabling participation in the community and providing educational, cultural and recreational options is of paramount importance for the healthy physical and intellectual development of every child.

Where specialised support – for communications or mobility, for example — is needed to facilitate interaction and promote self-reliant participation in everyday activities, access should be free and available to all. Gender is also a crucial factor: Girls are less likely than boys to receive care and food and are more likely to be left out of family interactions and activities.

Girls and young women with disabilities are ‘doubly disabled’. They confront not only the prejudice and inequities encountered by many persons with disabilities, but are also constrained by traditional gender roles and barriers.

Participation in social activities helps to promote a positive view of disability.

Sport, in particular, has helped overcome many societal prejudices. Physical activity can be a powerful means of promoting respect – it is inspirational to see a child surmount the physical and psychological barriers to participation, including lack of encouragement and support or limited adaptive equipment.

Inclusive media also have a key part to play. When children’s literature includes children and adults with disabilities, it sends out positive messages that they are members of families and communities.

It is important for members of all groups, and especially those that may be discriminated against on the grounds of race, gender, ethnicity or disability, to be included in stories and textbooks for children – not necessarily as the main protagonists but simply to note their presence and participation. Books, film and media portrayal play an important role in teaching children about social norms. Social protection for children with disabilities and their families is especially important because these families often face a higher cost of living and lost opportunities to earn income. As a society, we can tackle the consequent, increased risk of child poverty with such social protection initiatives as cash transfer programmes.

These programmes – already being implemented by the Government of Zimbabwe — are relatively easy to administer and provide for flexibility in meeting the particular needs of parents and children.

The author is the chief of Social Policy at UNICEF Zimbabwe.

Source : The Herald