Podcast #60: Day of the African Child draws attention to children living with disabilities

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© UNICEF/UGDA2012-00127/Michele Sibiloni
Denis Komakech, 17, who is a blind student, is using his laptop at Gulu High School, northern Uganda, an inclusive school with a special needs annex for children who are blind.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 16 June 2012 –The Day of the African Child commemorates the day in 1976 when hundreds of black schoolchildren were killed in Soweto, South Africa, as they took to the streets to protest against an inferior education system and the right to be taught in their own language.

The theme of this year’s Day of the African Child, selected by the African Union, is “The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfil”. To commemorate the 22nd anniversary of this Day, UNICEF Podcast moderator Femi Oke spoke with Shuaib Chalklen, UN Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development.

Listen to the Podcast in streaming MP3 Format

Stronger political will needed to make inclusive education a reality

While there is no available data for the whole continent, country-specific information suggests that between 5 and 10 per cent of all children in Africa grow up with a disability. Most of them are denied their right to education, are more likely to drop out of school and have lower learning achievements than other children. According to Mr. Chalklen, one of the main underlying factors behind this grim situation is lack of political will.

“That was a great failure of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), that it didn’t specify the need to include children with disabilities in education”, said Mr. Chalklen. He stressed that the only way to move forward is to strengthen the political will and turn it into real, achievable programmes in education, health care and other areas aimed to improve accessibility and the wellbeing of children living with disabilities.


© UNICEF/RWAA2011-00117/Shehzad Noorani
A young boy uses blocks of wood to count in Primary 1 at Rubingo Child Friendly School in Gasabo District on the outskirts of Kigali. This is one of many inclusive schools that encourage children with special needs to study amongst other children.

Is inclusive education affordable?

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) puts governments under the obligation to provide education free from discrimination. Yet, many African countries have failed to fulfill this obligation and children with disabilities are left out of the education system. Commenting on the cost of inclusive education, Mr. Chalklen said: “I think it’s affordable and there are schools everywhere in Africa. If it is from the start designed to be accessible, it becomes cheaper.” He added that training teachers for inclusive schools and teaching a diversity of learners is a serious challenge that needs to be addressed.

Looking ahead

Despite difficulties, the last decades have marked significant progress in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in Africa. Twenty-nine countries have ratified the Convention (CRPD) and Mr. Chalklen believes others will join in the future. Also, according to Mr. Chalklen, there is a growing awareness throughout the region. “It’s a small jump, but let me add that organizations for disabled persons are growing and strengthening as well. That is progress”, said Mr. Chalklen.

To conclude, Mr. Chalklen called on governments, donors and lawmakers to make a commitment to the disability cause. “Implementing the convention is not so difficult and you do have the resources. I don’t believe that any country in Africa can say that they don’t have the resources to spend on inclusive education or health care, to spend on the needs of the population”, said Mr. Chalklen.

Country perspective: Uganda

Baba Diri Margaret was only 15 when she lost her sight due to glaucoma. She returned to her home village in Uganda where she joined the disability movement. Today, Baba Diri Margaret is an Honourable Member of the Ugandan Parliament and a central figure of the disability movement in her country.

She told podcast moderator Kathryn Herzog that children with disabilities in Uganda face many challenges such as being neglected by their parents, stigmatized by society, little access to proper medical care and are excluded from education. “But people with disability are beautiful”, said Baba Diri Margret. “We need to give children with disability the opportunity to talk about themselves, to talk about their challenges and what can be done.”

To listen to the Interview

More on Inclusive education:

Podcast Interview with Ms Elina Lehtomaki, Researcher at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and a pioneer in the field of inclusive education.

Video interview with Michaela (Chaeli) Mycroft, winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work and commitment to the rights of disabled children in South Africa.

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