Articles

"The Rights of Children with Disabilities: the duty to protect, respect, promote and fulfil."

In 1976, thousands of black school children took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa protesting the inferior quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down. During the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and a thousand were injured.

In  honour and in memory of all those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Organisation of African Union, the predecessor to the AU set aside 16 June as the Day of the African Child which has been  celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991.

This year's theme for The Day of the African Child commemorations is, "The Rights of Children with Disabilities": 'the duty to protect, respect, promote and fulfil.' This theme is in recognition of the fact that children with disabilities continue to be marginalised and face difficulties in accessing education, health and other social services as well as being able to enjoy their rights.

Article 23 of Tthe United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) addresses the rights of children with disabilities: "a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child's active participation in the community. € Furthermore, Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities affirms that 'States Parties shall take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment by children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children'. This calls upon State Parties to take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to all aspects of society, on an equal basis with others, as well as to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers to accessibility. In spite of this, in many parts of the world today, lack of awareness and understanding of accessibility as a cross-cutting development issue remains an obstacle to the achievement of progress and development through the Millennium Development Goals, as well as other internationally agreed outcomes.

As we commemorate The Day of the African Child let us draw our attention to the lives of African children today. Persons with disabilities, "the world's largest minority €, continue to face barriers to participation in all aspects of society. In Zimbabwe these take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment, access to information communications technology (ICT), exclusion from legislation or policy, societal attitudes and discrimination.

In Zimbabwe the result is that persons with disabilities do not have equal access to society or services, including education, employment, health care, transportation, political participation. For many years, children living with physical disability have been educated at specialised institutions or, in several instances, regular schools provided special classes for them. However, not much special care is given to them. Despite the United Nations children's fund of 2009 and funds from other international donors, the government of Zimbabwe is yet to ensure the needs of disabled students and teachers are met. The situation is still dire and the government of Zimbabwe continues to give the majority of children learning with disabilities a raw deal.

In order to keep children with disabilities safe it is essential that they receive the same level of protection as non-disabled children. Evidence and experience shows that when barriers to their inclusion are removed and persons with disabilities are empowered to participate fully in societal life, their entire community benefits.

There is need to mobilise and call to action the collective efforts of all role-players on the African continent to encourage all actors both state and civil society actors   involved in improving the condition of children on the continent, to engage in activities that promote the rights of disabled children.

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