Children with disabilities who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, the ones who live on the fringe of society, are the most vulnerable and exposed. As we commemorate Child Protection Week (28 May to 3 June 2012), the need to raise awareness of these ‘invisible children’ is at an all time high with 293,000 - 346,000 children with disabilities in South Africa according to the World Health Organisation.
The National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA), the national NGO for the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with physical disabilities, is becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of provisioning for children with disabilities in the South African childcare and protection systems.
Most of South Africa’s children with disabilities are confronted not only with marginalisation and alienation due to their disabilities, but have to deal with neglect and suffering associated with poverty and not having their basic human rights and needs met. This also makes this minority group more exposed to violence and abuse, especially those children with disabilities who are in institutional or residential care facilities.
“Child disability is a neglected and serious national problem,” says Therina Wentzel, National Director of the NCPPDSA. “We are inundated with reports of children, already severely disadvantaged due to poverty and lacking in opportunity, who are not identified nor sufficiently provided for in policies, programmes and services by an array of state and civil society childcare and protection agencies.”
Childen 'falling through cracks'
A lot of children with disabilities fall through the cracks of the South African childcare and protection systems. The majority of children with disabilities are deprived of the right not only from being socially included, but from their disability-specific measures of care and protection. Often the country’s childcare and protection policies and programmes do not adequately regard the special needs of children with disabilities, and exclude disability-appropriate intervention strategies.
South Africa has an obligation under the Constitution as well as national policy and legislation to care for each and every child equally as also stated in international law and the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Also as important, is that every child with a disability has the right to an education and to be included in the South African school system. The Right to Education for Children with Disabilities campaign estimates that there are 165 000 disabled children who are out of school. That is about half of the number of children with disabilities who are not receiving an education.
For those who have a disability, there is a strong chance that their career options and pathways are limited not by their own potential but rather by the inability of the system to support them in reaching their full potential with the necessary support. Early childhood development is crucial for every child in this critical foundation phase so as to enhance their opportunities to advance in society.
Society needs to better understand
Prejudice, misconceptions and ignorance about disabilities are often at the root of the abuse, neglect and abandonment of children with disabilities. Persons with disabilities can be sidelined in society and treated as secondary citizens. This stems from a lack of understanding of disabilities. Society requires a shift in focus from the dis-ability to the capability of each individual.
The NCPPDSA believes that society’s knowledge and understanding of disability issues is directly related to the level of responsiveness to the needs and rights of persons with disabilities, and hence their social inclusion.
It is to this end that the NCPPDSA has conceptualised a fundraising drive following the immense success of its 17-year running Casual Day disability-awareness campaign. Raising awareness for children with disabilities, Nappy Run will be a month long campaign to encourage the public to donate nappies. It will culminate in a series of fun run events on National Children’s Day on 3 November 2012.
To find out more, go to www.ncppdsa.org.za, www.nappyrun.org.za and www.causes.com/nappyrun or follow on Twitter @NappyRun
(Press release, May 2012)
How to spot the signs of child abuse