Today I participated in a webinar hosted by the US Fund for UNICEF on the 2013 State of the World’s Children Report: Children with Disabilities. I honestly had little knowledge about the unique and challenging issues faced by millions of children around the world with disabilities. In fact, an estimated 93 million children in the world live with a moderate or severe disability, an astounding number especially given the fact that 80% of these children with disabilities live in the developing world.
Per Cara Elizabeth Yar Khan, a Reporting Specialist for UNICEF Haiti, children with disabilities are the most marginalized, neglected people in the world often living a life of isolation, exclusion and denial of basic human rights. Oftentimes children with disabilities in developing world are treated like they are invisible and live a life of stigma, discrimination and suffering. In cases of poverty, children with disabilities will often get the least amount of food, health care and educational opportunities, and will spend their lives hidden inside their homes. Unfortunately these children are often exploited and physically abused.
The US Fund for UNICEF is trying to change the lives of children living with disabilities by promoting their basic human rights and eliminating the many barriers these children face in everyday life by promoting inclusion and transforming the way societies view and treat children with disabilities.
Progress has been made in such countries as Bangladesh, India and Namibia who have launched social protection measures to help children with disabilities. However, much work still needs to be done. The US Fund for UNICEF is working hard to raise global awareness about the 93 million children – most whom are often forgotten – who live with a disability.
In 2008, I spent a week volunteering at an orphanage in Costa Rica where I witnessed firsthand the tragic realities of children with disabilities. About one-fourth of the children left behind on the front doorstep of the orphanage where children with moderate to severe disabilities. These were children that their parents didn’t want and some of these children were so abused that it caused brain damage. It was a disheartening experience yet also taught me that these children are just as loving and wonderful as any other child. They are just different and have unique challenges.
One of the children named Anita in particular reminded me that there is hope for children with disabilities. Anita was left at the doorstep of the orphanage when she was four years old, so badly beaten by her parents that she could hardly walk. A fellow volunteer from New York was so moved by her story that she told her father, a highly successful surgeon, about Anita’s plight and how she would never be able to walk again. A year later, Anita was flown to the United States along with her adoptive mother and her legs were repaired, free of charge. Although Anita could not walk correctly and would tire easily without her walker, she was finally at six years old able to go to the park, play with other children and be a kid once again instead of be confined to a chair. It was the most beautiful message of hope I’d ever seen.
To learn more, read the report: The US Fund for UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children with Disabilities