By SOLA OGUNDIPE
GOVERNMENTS, families and communities in Nigeria and all over Africa, have been called upon to provide children who have disabilities from discrimination, violence and neglect with access to all the services they require to grow up healthy and to live up to their potential.
Making the call on June 16, the Day of the African Child 2012, the Chief of UNICEF’s Disability Unit, Rosangela Berman Bieler, said even though children living with disabilities continue to be the most excluded among all groups of children in Africa, only a small portion of them are in school, and far fewer receive the adequate inclusive education they need.
June 16, the Day of the African Child draws attention to the lives of African children today. It was initiated by the Organization of African Unity, OAU, in 1991 in commemoration of the 1976 historic march in Soweto South Africa, when thousands of African school children took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language.
Theme of the Day of the African Child 2012 is: “The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill” According to UNICEF, between 5 and 10 per cent of all children in Africa grow up with disabilities, that largely arise as a result of complications during birth, poliomyelitis, measles, meningitis and cerebral malaria, as well as inadequate prenatal and neonatal health care services and inadequate diet leading to stunting.
So far, Nigeria and 29 other countries in Africa have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, that stipulates that children with disabilities should be protected against all forms of discrimination, and that they should have access to education, health services and protection from violence. By becoming a signature state, countries commit themselves to promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
For instance, school enrolment among children with disabilities is much lower than among other children and such children are more likely to drop out of school than their peers without disability. Their learning achievements are often worse than those of other children, because schools are not designed to cater for them.
Agnes Kabore Ouattara, Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child encourages adoption of legislative measures to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of children living with disabilities and the implementation of protective and rehabilitative programmes.