The situation of differently-abled children
It is considered that around 150 million children in the world live with a disability; 80% of them live in developing countries. Most often, these children do not receive necessary treatment and most of them are discriminated.
“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted in the year 1989 is the first international treaty that contained a specific reference to disability; its article No. 2 is dedicated to non-discrimination of children with disabilities. There is also a separate article No. 23, which dedicates itself to the same concern.
“State Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and a decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.” (art. 23 CRC)
There are numerous causes of disability. It is unfortunately true that most of these instances could have been avoided had they been provided with proper prevention and access to relevant treatment. In deed, a disability is mainly caused by:
- Genetic problems
- Disease (Polio for example)
- War (particularly through anti-personal mines)
- Sanitary neglect
- Poverty ( which is often followed by the following mentioned causes).
The disability of a child is often followed by his being marginalized in society. For example, it is found that only around 2% of disabled children have access to education.
Furthermore, the disability scares people. It is often established in the collective consciousness that a disability is a curse or a punishment for sins committed by one’s ancestors. In numerous regions around the world, children suffering from disabilities are isolated, shunned and considered untouchable.
This type of thing is mostly flagrant in developing countries where the majority of disabled children are illiterate and they live completely isolated from the rest of society. Often, they are forced to beg to provide for themselves and they live on the streets in extreme poverty.
There is an increasing risk of disabled children becoming unfortunate victims of violence due to their inability to defend themselves. Thus, physical, psychological and emotional violence happens to be a sad reality that disabled children undergo in domestic, institutional as well as social circles.
Unfortunately, in certain countries, a physical or psychological handicap could also be the cause of infanticide following the social and financial burden disabled children put on their families.
Discrimination due to disability
Discrimination due to disability is numerous: in fields such as education, lodging, transportation and cultural life, most of the places and services concerned are largely inaccessible to individuals suffering from disabilities. The obstacles are numerous, be it physical (buildings that cannot be accessed by individuals on wheelchairs), institutional (the lack of qualified staff, for example, professional sign language interpreters), or even obstacles that simply stem from intolerance.
Even in developed countries, one could observe certain discrimination that affects disabled children: they are most often separated from other children, kept in special institutions away from the family, in special classes, etc. Thus, the opportunity to integrate into society and later find employment becomes impossible.
Rights of the disabled child
Disabled children are like all other children. In keeping with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), they are entitled to the same rights as any other child.
In addition to the right to non-discrimination which is mentioned above, it is necessary to highlight that disabled children are supposed to enjoy all rights guaranteed by the Convention as well as the rights mentioned below.
The right to proper treatment
The second paragraph of article No. 23 CRC, dedicated to children with disabilities guarantees their right to get special care and to request the granting of state assistance, adapted to the child’s country and to the financial standing of his parents or his guardian.
It is obvious that children with disabilities are entitled to special treatment, but in practice, most of these children are entirely deprived of even proper medical treatment. Their chance of recovering or in the least living with less suffering is thus reduced to zero.
Right to education
Due to the lack of infrastructure, of means, of knowledge and above all of goodwill, most of the disabled children do not receive education, not even primary education for that matter. In fact, international statistics point out that only 2% of disabled children enjoy the privilege of going to school. It is a serious violation of the CRC which guarantees the right of every child’s going to school.
Right to leisure
Sometimes, being totally engrossed in the special care given to disabled children, people around them forget that they are, before anything else, children who need to enjoy themselves, who need to play, express themselves artistically, engage in sports, etc. Yet, the right to leisure is a right included in the Convention of the Rights of the Child (art. 31 CRC) and this naturally applies to the differently-abled child as well.
Right to participation
This is one of the fundamental needs of a disabled child, but unfortunately, the one which is most often ignored. Like in the case of any other child, the handicapped child must be given the opportunity to be heard in any proceedings affecting him according to Article 12 of the CRC.
Their right to participation equally extends to all aspects of social life, on which subject the child, disabled or not, should be allowed to express their opinion, get connected, keep himself informed and take part. Yet, because of their disabilities, one often thinks that they do not have the capacity to express a coherent idea, and the decision is taken without listening to their opinion.
Children suffering from a disability, by their vulnerability, are particularly sensitive to the act of giving voice to their opinion, even though sometimes, communication with them would present numerous obstacles (difficulties in communicating with them, slow thinking, lack of understanding). Thus, handicapped children should be considered an integral part of decision-making when it comes to issues that matters to them. Eliminating obstacles, that block their way to social integration, should be therefore identified as an immediate necessity.
Great room for improvement
The word “handicapped” often contains a pejorative connotation: a handicapped suffers from incapacities, so the temptation to treat them as incompetent is widely felt. But, a disabled child is capable of engaging himself in constructive things, and above all they are capable of progress. Unfortunately, they are seldom provided with an opportunity to progress.
Globally speaking, there is great room for progress in the field of the rights of the disabled child. One such progress has been their being called “differently-abled children” in place of “disabled children”.
In fact, what is needed to guarantee the rights of the differently-abled child is a change of mentality. In addition to this, authorities all over the world should take necessary steps to introduce a juridical and institutional structure that would assure the protection of disabled children, allowing them to come out of their dark dwellings and which would most necessarily let them enjoy proper living conditions they are worthy of and opportunities that they very well deserve.
Written by : Aurélie Gigo
Translated by : Judith Sumindi Rodrigo
Last update 19th april 2011