Children with disabilities are among the world’s most marginalized people, often going undocumented from birth and facing rampant discrimination, according to a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Globally, those with disabilities are the least likely to go to school or receive health care. Often tucked away in institutions, they are also among the most susceptible to violence, abuse and neglect, UNICEF found.
The report known as “The State of the World’s Children” is produced annually and this year focused on the global status of children with disabilities. The international organization is urging countries to embrace individuals with special needs, looking first at what they have to offer rather than just focusing on their deficits.
“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,” said Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF. “Their loss is society’s loss; their gain is society’s gain.”
The report documents the varied experiences of children with disabilities around the world. It includes the story of Michael Hosea of Tanzania who has albinism and has been hunted by practitioners of witchcraft who kill people with the condition to use their body parts, hair and organs in charms and potions.
In another case, Nicolae Poraico who has intellectual disability said that he wound up in an institution in Moldova where he was beaten by staff.
Identifying the full scope of the issues facing children with disabilities is challenging, however, since accurate data on the number of kids with special needs and how they are affected is scarce, the report found.
UNICEF says big changes are needed in societal attitudes and is urging nations to ratify the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. So far, 130 countries have ratified the pact which calls for greater community access and a better standard of living for people with disabilities worldwide.
The United States signed the treaty in 2009, but a push last year to ratify the convention was unsuccessful. A new round of hearings to consider ratification is expected in the U.S. Senate later this year.