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Inclusion of children with disabilities benefits society as a whole

Photo: UNICEF

See the child – before the disability, UNICEF says

Brussels, Belgium, 30 May 2013 – Children with disabilities and their communities would both benefit if society focused on what those children can achieve, rather than what they cannot do, according to UNICEF's annual State of the World's Children's report.

Concentrating on the abilities and potential of children with disabilities would create benefits for society as a whole, says the report released today.

"When you see the disability before the child, it is not only wrong for the child, but it deprives society of all that child has to offer," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "Their loss is society's loss; their gain is society's gain."

The report lays out how societies can include children with disabilities because when they play a full part in society, everyone benefits. For instance, inclusive education broadens the horizons of all children even as it presents opportunities for children with disabilities to fulfil their ambitions.

More efforts to support integration of children with disabilities would help tackle the discrimination that pushes them further into the margins of society.

For many children with disabilities, exclusion begins in the first days of life with their birth going unregistered. Lacking official recognition, they are cut off from the social services and legal protections that are crucial to their survival and prospects. Their marginalization only increases with discrimination.

"For children with disabilities to count, they must be counted – at birth, at school and in life," said Mr. Lake.

The European Union also has a strong legal commitment to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and to improve their social and economic situation. The European Union has been a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) since January 2011, when it completed the ratification process. Building on this commitment, the EU has developed European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe which establishes objectives and actions in various priority areas, such as participation, equality, education, social protection, etc. The Strategy has also been linked to the Europe 2020 Strategy – the European Union's ten-year growth strategy.

The State of the World's Children 2013: Children with Disabilities says that children with disabilities are the least likely to receive health care or go to school. They are among the most vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect, particularly if they are hidden or put in institutions – as many are because of social stigma or the economic cost of raising them.

The combined result is that children with disabilities are among the most marginalized people in the world. Children living in poverty are among the least likely to attend their local school or clinic but those who live in poverty and also have a disability are even less likely to do so.

Gender is a key factor, as girls with disabilities are less likely than boys to receive food and care.

"Discrimination on the grounds of disability is a form of oppression," the report says, noting that multiple deprivations lead to even greater exclusion for many children with disabilities.

There is little accurate data on the number of children with disabilities, what disabilities these children have and how disabilities affect their lives. As a result, few governments have a dependable guide for allocating resources to support and assist children with disabilities and their families.

About one third of the world's countries have so far failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The report urges all governments to keep their promises to guarantee the equal rights of all their citizens – including their most excluded and vulnerable children.

Progress is being made toward the inclusion of children with disabilities, albeit unevenly, and The State of the World's Children 2013 sets out an agenda for further action.

The report urges governments to ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to support families so that they can meet the higher costs of caring for children with disabilities.

It calls for measures to fight discrimination among the general public, decision-makers and providers of such essential services as schooling and health care.

International agencies should make sure the advice and assistance they provide to countries is consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They should promote a concerted global research agenda on disability to generate data and analysis that will guide planning and resource allocation, the report says.

It emphasizes the importance of involving children and adolescents with disabilities by consulting them on the design and evaluation of programmes and services for them.

And everyone benefits when inclusive approaches include accessibility and universal design of environments to be used by all to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation.

"The path ahead is challenging," said Mr. Lake. "But children do not accept unnecessary limits. Neither should we."

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About UNICEF
UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information visit UNICEF.org .

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