Currently around the world, roughly one billion people are living with some form of disability1. Among children, it is estimated that somewhere between 93 to 150 million children live with disabilities2. Unfortunately, in most societies around the world there is an unjustified taboo or stigma revolving around disabilities, as a result children with disabilities are often not provided access to adequate support services and resources. In order to defeat this stigma and to move forward in providing for children with disabilities we must educate ourselves and others on the truth about disabilities.
A disability is defined as ‘any long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment, which in interaction with various barriers may hinder full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’3. A disability is not necessarily apparent from the ones external appearance. It can take many forms, and affect a person’s life to various degrees. Some individuals may experience significant difficulties due to their disability but, many are able to live active lives. In fact with the sufficient support systems and resources, an individual can be very successful in many factors of life. Stephen Hawking, the famous astrophysicist, stated
‘Disability need not be an obstacle to success. I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. Yet it has not prevented me from having a prominent career in astrophysics and a happy family life… I have benefitted from access to first class medical care. I rely on a team of personal assistants who make it possible for me to live and work in comfort and dignity… My success in theoretical physics has ensured that I am supported to live a worthwhile life. It is very clear that the majority of people with disabilities in the world have an extremely difficult time with everyday survival, let alone productive employment and personal fulfilment.’1
Therefore, with access to sufficient resources and support services, it is quite possible to live a fulfilled and active life with a disability. The issue that arises is that the majority of individuals living with disabilities are not provided these resources.
This is especially seen among children in developing nations, where poverty, malnutrition, lack of support services and other factors, facilitate the progression and negative effects of a disability. It is found that children who are poor are actually more likely to become disabled and once disabled, more likely to be denied the resources that would alleviate the effects of the disability2. This often results in disabled children falling into deeper poverty, further increasing their denial to support services.
Aside from poverty, many children with disabilities are also not provided the support needed simply due to stigmas about the cause of disability. In many societies disabilities are associated with punishment for sins, giving a poor image to those living with them. Some societies even believe disabilities are ‘contagious’ leading to further exclusion of individuals with disabilities, especially children. The truth is that children can be both born with impairments or acquire them during childhood due to illness, accidents, natural disasters or conflict. Quite clearly, children do not have a say in whether they acquire a disability or not. However, this common misconception that they do or somehow can cause others to also gain an impairment often leads to children being excluded or abused in society. They are often deprived from education (90% of children with disabilities in developing nations do not go to school4) and excluded from health care systems. This results in children with disabilities being at higher risk for poverty, lack of social interaction, low self-esteem and low self-confidence.
The injustices done to children with disabilities are so vast that children with disabilities are considered to be among the most oppressed and overlooked members of society. Denial of education and health care are only a few of the injustices carried out against these children. Other injustices include emotion and physical abuse, violence, social discrimination and more. We must recognize these injustices, establish support programs, educate ourselves and others in order to adequately provide for all individuals leaving with impairments.
For more information regarding this topic and the issues facing children with disabilities please visit https://www.unicef.org/disabilities/files/Factsheet_A5__Web_NEW.pdf
- World Health Organization. (2011). World Report on Disability. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press.
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). (2013). Children and Young People with Disabilities Fact Sheet. New York
- United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development Disability. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Article 1.
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). (2014). Global Initiative on Out of School Children: South Asia Regional Study.