By Nangosi David
Children with disabilities (CWDS) are vital and valuable part of the society, yet most marginalised and vulnerable group of persons in Uganda. They are abused, exploited and excluded by the societies they live in, denying them of their inalienable and recognised rights.
Uganda has broadly domesticated the rights of CWDS as enshrined in both the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which was ratified by Uganda in 1990 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) with its optional protocol ratified by Uganda on September 25, 2008 without reservations. By so doing, Uganda committed itself to accord all rights stated in the UN human rights instruments to PWDs like all other citizens.
The provisions are recognised in the constitution of 1995 and in most of the laws and policies establishing the rights PWDs and/or children including, but not limited to the Childrens Act and PWDs Act of 2006.
In spite of the fact that the rights of CWDS are acknowledged, some of the provisions to realise them do not meet the standards expected by the CRC and the UN CRPD and as a result, CWDS have suffered disproportionately. The data relating to CWDS are scarce and to some extent, unreliable. However, the research study conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) between November 2013 and February 2014, and also based on the estimates, the child disability prevalence is about 13% or 2.5 million people living with some form of disability in Uganda. Henceforth, CWDS are vulnerable to a number of challenging issues recognised as follows;
Lack of effective participation
There is limited involvement or no involvement of CWDS, their parents or guardians in formulation, dissemination and implementation of the laws and policies that relates to them. Worse to that, even the relevant persons that take care of CWDS are also not engaged in the formulation, dissemination and implementation of such laws and policies. This has, as a result, led to ignorance and ineffective implementation of the existing laws and policies that could be enforced by CWDS and their parents or guardians to cause inclusiveness. The lack of effective participation for the interest of CWDS negates Article 7 of the UN CRPD which enacts that;
‘‘In all actions concerning CWDS, the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration’’
Community misconceptions and stigmas
Community misconceptions and stigmas remain associated with CWDS, homes of CWDS and this in turn leads to attitudes and behaviours of neglect, isolation, abuse and marginalisation of CWDS by communities and families leading to increased discrimination. CWDS are under looked by their fellow peers in the societies that they live. Some parents have had and continue to have negative attitudes towards CWDS. A study conducted by the African Child Policy Forum in 2009 revealed that parents of CWDS and the immediate family members are the most perpetrators of violence against CWDS. Parents often hide CWDS and deny them of their rights thinking that they are totally helpless. Communities view CWDS as objects of charity worthy of no existence. This has, as a result, affected the ambitions of CWDS.
CWDS always underestimate themselves before others in society. They think they do not fit in the society like how other able bodied children do. This is visible in self pity, loss of self esteem and non- reporting of human rights violations against them. The situation is made worse by the service providers and the general public who do not appreciate that to accord CWDS their rights is an obligation. CWDS, therefore, have grown miserable and lack social networking skills.
It is a painful reality that CWDS go through in their day today lives. Inadequate nutrition at a young age prevents CWDS from developing properly both physically and cognitive. This has led to poor health due to lack of food security.
Lack of community mobilisation and advocacy
This has been because of weak institutional framework as a result of lack of coordination between government institutions and civil society organisations of PWDs.
School related challenges
The enrolment rate of CWDS in pre-primary, primary and secondary school is very low. About 9% of CWDS attend school and only 6% of these children complete primary school and go to study in secondary schools according to a study conducted by UNICEF. The UBOS statistical abstract 2010 survey states that disability is one of the major factors for children not attending school and according to the figures, 30% of the children aged 7 gave disability as one of the reasons for not going to school.
The 2002 national census estimated that about 2.5 million Ugandans were PWDs with only 2.2% of these having gone beyond primary school. The 2009 Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) report cited rampant dropout rates of PWDs. It noted that many disabled children fall behind and discouraged by repeated failure, dropout of school. Denying CWDS their education is interpreted as denying their way of livelihood. The recognised challenges/barriers include the following;
a) The Alternative Report to the United Nations Committee of experts on the implementation of the CRPD as launched on April 27, at Hotel Africana indicates that UPE has created a high demand for secondary education, which is not being addressed by the Government. There is no universal secondary education (USE) policy and consequently there are no programmes or initiatives addressing the needs of CWDS in secondary education. According to the Uganda Population and Housing census of 2002, only 2.2% of PWDs in Uganda attained post-secondary education;
b) Financial incapacity to manage the school dues;
c) The current school curriculum is not sensitive to the educational needs of CWDS and opportunities for these children are consequently limited and restricted. Disability related concepts and studies are ignored and/ or not thought of or little included in various school curriculums. The examination system is not flexible and nationally recognised and practiced;
d) School infrastructural difficulties are unfriendly to meet the CWDS’ needs. This involves impassable and un available facilities within the reach of CWDS;
e) Negative attitude towards CWDS by teachers and their fellow colleagues/ peers has affected the retention of CWDS in schools. CWDS are presumed to be incapable, of low intelligence, without friends, no value from them. Their participations at school are presumed to be useless and of no meaning.
f) Provision of insufficient institutional materials like braille papers, Perkins braillers and braille text books to special units to suit the special learning of CWDS. The alternative report to the UN committee of experts on the implementation of the CRPD indicates indicates that no braille text books are available for secondary school. Such has directly discriminated against CWDS and prejudice their education;
g) Lack of/limited involvement in sports disability related activities for CWDS hence restricting sports ambitions and poor body healthy set up for such children.
h) Few trained sign language teachers;
i) Long distance: Schools are not within the reach of CWDS. In rural areas, transport is still a big obstacle. This is complicated by some CWDS having assistive aids and compliances to enable their movement, rough terrain, rugged and slippery roads during rainy season
1. Review and enforce the Uganda legal and policy frame work;
2. Sensitisation and awareness and reinforce the capacities of communities and stakeholders;
3. CWDS, their parents or guardians to be actively consulted on an on going basis in relation to the decisions that affect them directly or indirectly;
4. Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in conjunction with the ministry of education to establish the child rights sponsorship fund for CWDS
5. School curriculum should be revised to take into account the educational needs of all children and the Government should increase funding of the special education units;
6. The Government should enforce the recruitment of special needs Education Assessment and Resources Services programme (EARS) with a view to re-establishing it.
7. Government to come up with the statistical information for CWDS
8. Nutritional counseling and encourage immunisation of CWDS. Nutritional status of CWDS can be improved through community based growth monitoring programme like identifying malnourished CWDS and encourage their families to adopt supplementary feeding. This will help to prevent polio and under weight.
9. Implement programmes in education, health and rehabilitation fields;
10. The Government to partner with organisations of the child and disability movement;
11. Provision of disability friendly facilities and instructional materials;
12. The Government to enact a special secondary education policy to ensure consolidated and comprehensive service delivery;
13. Community mobilisation and advocacy;
14. Parents of CWDS to form Associations.
The writer is a lawyer and serves with the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU)