Windhoek — The latest report on Namibian children living with disabilities by the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) shows that as many as 50 percent of Namibian children with disabilities have never attended primary school, especially those in rural areas.
Unicef released the annual report on the State of the World's Children 2013 yesterday. According to the report 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 estimates, Namibia has 33 614 learners with disabilities, of those 1 540 are girls and 18 206 boys. The organisation singles out Namibia for "commendable progress in developing policies for inclusive education," since independence.
The report says concentrating on the abilities and potential of children with disabilities would create benefits for society as a whole. Further, more efforts to support integration of children with disabilities would help tackle the discrimination that pushes them further into the margins of society. Micaela Marques de Sousa, Unicef Representative in Namibia, nevertheless says like many other developing countries, significant challenges remain for children with disabilities in Namibia and elsewhere.
For instance, the report says very little information is available on Namibian children with disabilities, their actual participation in education, and coverage of disability grants. "The absence of data results from the lack of a systematic method to collect relevant information, it does not imply that no instances of the category in question occurred," Unicef says.
The State of the World's Children 2013 sets out an agenda for further action, as the progress being made in the inclusion of children with disability is unevenly spread. Namibian has adopted the National Policy on Disability that provides a legislative framework for the social inclusion of people with disabilities and identifies children with disabilities as a key target group. "However, as is the case globally and in Namibia, there is little accurate data on the number of children with disabilities, what disabilities these children have and how disabilities affect their lives," the report notes. As a result, few governments have a dependable guide for allocating resources to support and assist children with disabilities and their families.
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. The report further indicates that children with disabilities in Namibia who are in school are more likely to be attending special schools in urban areas. 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.
"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. Their loss is society's loss; their gain is society's gain," said Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake. 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.
The report says 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. Gender is a key factor since 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.