Children with Disabilities: Global Priorities
Prepared 2001 by Rehabilitation International (RI), a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the UN (ECOSOC), ILO, WHO, UNICEF and regional entities including the Organization for African Unity, the European Union, UNESCAP and the Organization for American States.
In preparation for the UN Special Session on Children, RI has reviewed current statistics, literature and international policy statements, and consulted with specialists in childhood disability. The following findings from these materials are sobering and underscore the urgency of raising the inclusion of children and youths with disabilities to a high priority in all proposed actions and programs to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
During the last century in most countries, disabled children were often overlooked, excluded, hidden away or exiled to institutions. In the 21st century, RI envisions "a world where equal opportunities for disabled people becomes a natural consequence of enlightened policies and legislation supporting full inclusion to and access to all parts of society."
RI Charter for the New Millennium, adopted London, 1999
"The rights of students with disabilities to be educated in their local mainstream school is becoming more and more accepted in most countries, and many reforms are being put in place to achieve to this goal. Further, there is no reason to segregate disabled students in public education systems. Instead, education systems need to be reconsidered to meet the needs of all students."
Inclusive Education at Work: Students with Disabilities in Mainstream Schools, OECD, Paris, 1999
"The principle of inclusion in the 1994 (UNESCO) Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education means that ordinary schools should accommodate all children, regardless of their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, linguistic or other conditions."
It's a Matter of Attitudes, Report of Hasselby Seminar, Swedish Organizations of Disabled Persons International Aid Organization (SHIA), 1999
"An estimated 170 million of the world's children are malnourished, often at a cost of developmental disabilities . . . and 1 of every 10 children has serious disabilities."
Carol Bellamy, Executive Director, UNICEF, address to Organizations for African Unity, Cairo, May 2001
Early Detection and Stimulation
"There has been remarkable documentation in the last decade to confirm that the first five years of a child's life either positively or negatively affect growth and development for a lifetime. Experts agree that the most critical period is from conception to three years. During this period the foundation of a child's intelligence, physical development, personality and social behavior are laid . . . It is of utmost importance to identify impairments as early as possible. Simple interventions and modes of care-giving can prevent or minimize cognitive, behavioral, emotional and health problems."
Rima Shore,Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development, Families and Work Institute, 1997
"When infants are held and touched in soothing ways, they tend to thrive. Warm, responsive care seems to have a protective function . . . But the brain's malleability during these early years also means that when children do not get the care they need, or if they experience starvation, abuse or neglect, their brain development may be compromised."
The State of the World's Children 2001, UNICEF
Education for All?
"Disabled people have lower education and income levels than the rest of the population. They are more likely to have incomes below poverty levels and less likely to have savings and assets than the non-disabled population. These findings hold for both developing and developing countries."
Poverty & Disability: a Survey of the Literature, World Bank, 1999
"We must focus on the needs of those most disadvantaged and excluded from learning, both in and out of school-girls, working children, children of ethnic minorities, and children affected by violence and conflict, disabilities and HIV/AIDS."
Carol Bellamy, Executive Director, UNICEF, Address to World Forum on Education for All, Dakar, April 2000
"The United Nations estimates that the literacy rate worldwide for people with disabilities is around 3%, with the rate for disabled women and girls hovering around 1%."
The UN Decade of Disabled Persons: a Decade of Accomplishment: 1983-1992- UN, New York, 1992
"It is important to note that throughout history, some children and adults with disabilities have been 'casually integrated' (without special programs or additional expense) into education, community and family activities. In fact, several small field studies conducted in Africa and Asia suggest that anywhere from 2 to 13% of children in ordinary schools have some sort of impairment."
M. Miles,Children with Disabilities in Ordinary Schools, Peshawar Mental Health Centre for Government of Pakistan, 1985 (ERIC ED265711)
"The issue of naming children and youth with disabilities as a specified target group has once again been the topic of heated discussion and advocacy leading up to, during and following the World Forum on "Education for All by 2015" held in Dakar, Senegal . . . Once again, the rights and needs of children with disabilities are not specified . . . This is in clear contrast to the clear specification of the special emphases on girls, gender equity, adult literacy and the HIV/AIDS pandemic . . .
"How will the progress of children and youth with disabilities . . . be monitored when they are not specified as a key target group in the national plans and education programs of their countries? Will we sit here in 2015 and say there has been significant progress in gender equity in education, that the levels of adult illiteracy have dropped, but that we have limited or no data on the progress in equity in education for children and youth with disabilities because we did not name them, did not plan for them and did not monitor their progress?"
Penny Price,RI Education Commission, Ethics and Inclusion: Diversity and Equity, keynote paper, RI World Congress, Rio de Janeiro, August 2000
"Approximately 2 million children have been killed by conflict over the last 10 years, 12 million have been made homeless and 6 million have been injured or disabled."
Growing Up Alone, UNICEF, 2001
"Women and children receive less than 20% of rehabilitation services, such as prosthetics and orthotics."
Relief and Rehabilitation of Traumatized Children in War Situations, UNICEF 1990
Disabled Children at Risk
"Disabled children are always at great risk of discrimination and are particularly vulnerable when there is a shortage of resources. An estimated 97% of disabled children in developing countries are denied even the most rudimentary rehabilitation services . . . Disabled children suffer more violence and abuse than other children - they are imprisoned in institutions, cupboards and sheds and, all too often, starved to death. Even in the wealthy and 'enlightened' developed countries, the birth of a disabled child is almost invariably viewed as a 'tragedy'."
Report of Rights for Disabled Children, a project coordinated by Disability Awareness in Action, inSeen and Heard, International Disability & Development Consortium, October 1997
Damaging Effects of Institutions
"Research in child development and the experience of . . . countries around the world have demonstrated that children experience developmental delays and potentially irreversible psychological damage by growing up in a congregate environment (institution). This is particularly true in the earliest stages of child development (birth to age 4) in which the child learns to make psychological attachment to parents (or substitute parents). Even in a well-staffed institution, a child rarely gets the mount of attention he or she would receive from . . . parents. Consequently, institutionalization precludes the kind of individual attachments that every child needs."
Children in Russia's Institutions: Human Rights & Opportunities for Reform, Findings and Recommendations of a UNICEF-sponsored Fact-Finding Mission, 1998, published by Mental Disability Rights International, Washington, D.C. 1999
Needs of Deaf Children
The position of the World Federation of the Deaf is that "deaf people are a cultural and linguistic minority with a right to their native sign language as their mother tongue; and that deaf children have a right to bilingual education in sign and written language."
Reaffirmation of Human Rights and Self-Determination for all Deaf People, WFD Resolution of its XIII World Congress, July 1999
Needs of Blind Children
The World Blind Union has found that, "less than 10% of the world's blind persons are literate and fewer than 15% of all visually disabled children ever have access to education." WBU asserts that, "Every blind person has the right to access written communication: Braille empowers blind persons to become active communicators, to receive an education and to have access to employment."
Factsheet on Literacy, World Blind Union, http://umc.once.es
"Disabled children have the same basic needs as all children: adequate food, shelter, security, nurture and social contact . . . They also need to be able to play, take risks, have triumphs and experience mishaps. They need support, but also to have expectations placed on them to prepare them for adulthood.
"Most disabled children will become disabled adults, but few of them know this . . . many disabled children believe they will grow up to become non-disabled. As they progress through childhood and prepare for their future, it is important for them to have appropriate role models. They need to learn the skills demanded of disabled adults . . . For this reason is it is important that disabled children meet disabled adults from their own societies."
Beverly Ashton, Action on Disability & Development,Perspectives on Disabled Children, Promoting the Rights of Disabled Children Globally, International Disability and Development Consortium, 1999
Powerful Influence of the Mass Media
"In newspapers, books and magazines, on television and in the cinema, on stage and through the airwaves, the media exert a uniquely powerful influence on how individuals come to understand the changing world around them" . . . In a great many countries, efforts are underway to bring children with disabilities from the margins into the mainstream of society. The pace of this process can be quickened and supported by the natural inclusion of disabled children in media designed to inform, educate and entertain the public. Disabled children need to see themselves reflected in the societal mirror that the mass media provides-so that they too can envision a future.
Improving Communications about People with Disabilities, United Nations, New York, 1982 andMass Media and Disabled People, proceedings of an international symposium, Polish Society for Rehabilitation of Disabled People, Warsaw, 1990.