CHILDREN’S CORNER with PANIC CHILUFYA
LAST week Wednesday, December 3, was International Day of People with Disabilities, a United Nations-sanctioned day that celebrates progress in breaking down barriers, opening doors, and realising an inclusive society for all. To commemorate this day, IAN BANDA, 21 a Grade 11 pupil at Kabulonga Boys Secondary School presented a petition to the Human Rights Commission in Lusaka on behalf of children living with disabilities to highlight their challenges.
This petition outlined the problems experienced by children with disabilities; the effect of those problems and attempts to provide recommendations. The Youth Disability Equality Pressure Group is a wing of the Zambia Association of Parents Children with Disabilities (ZAPCD). It was formed in the year 2013 after receiving training from ZAPCD through the technical support of Disability Rights Watch (DRW).
The aim of the Pressure Group is to promote and protect the rights of children and youths with disabilities through self-advocacy and self-representation with the support of the parent organisation (ZAPCD). The Pressure Group presented this petition after realising that children and the youth with disabilities still suffer discrimination in almost all sectors of national development.
Children and the youth face challenges in education, they are forced to leave their families and homes as early as seven years to attend special boarding schools far from home. As a result they are detached from family.
Ordinary schools cannot accommodate them because of inaccessible buildings; inappropriate learning materials; negative attitudes; and teachers not trained to handle the needs of children and youths with disabilities. It seems the Ministry of Education and other people who make decisions on their behalf is doing very little to resolve such issues.
Enrolment rates at primary schools are lower than those of their peers and when enrolled these children remain excluded in the learning process or drop out while progression rate to secondary school is equally poor.
In secondary school, children with visual impairments have difficulties taking up mathematics and other science subjects. Thus, have limited opportunities to proceed to tertiary education where mathematics and sciences are pre-requisite subjects.
Tertiary education is still a great difficulty especially at universities that are physically inaccessible and do not have adequate facilities to provide reasonable accommodation. This is worse for youths who are deaf and deaf-blind. Therefore, such children and youth with intellectual disabilities are completely excluded without any consideration.
These children and the youth have health problems related to their disabilities. For example issues that require physiotherapy, good nutrition, speech therapy, good sanitation, eye care and clean water; as well as sexual and reproductive health education. Most of these facilities are either completely not there or are inappropriate. In schools, sanitation is pathetic and does not allow such children or youth to access toilets freely and independently without losing the respect for their privacy and inherent dignity.
Education materials on sexual and reproductive health and services are not available in accessible formats or communication modes especially for those with visual, hearing and intellectual disabilities. This includes materials on HIV/AIDS. In certain circumstances, parents of children with disabilities do not take their children for under-five clinics for fear of stigma and discrimination.
These children are part of a family who must enjoy everything other family members enjoy; instead they are hidden from the public never to come out of the house. They do not enjoy playing with their friends. They are left out of family gatherings, fun and visits. When they reach youthful age where they can make their own choices about whom to marry, the youths usually have their families restricting them which is worse for females. There have been circumstances where girls have been sterilised without their knowledge or consent to avoid them getting pregnant.
Participation, play, culture and recreation
These are a stimulating factors for development and growth and many children with disabilities are denied this. This begins from the homes and it is aggravated in the community and worse in schools. In some homes, parents over-protect their children and thus deny them the right to play and interact with others. These children and youths are even denied the right to participate in matters that affect them; others want to make decisions on their behalf without consulting or involving them. Cultural and recreational facilities are either absent or if present they are not easily accessible.
Children and youths with disabilities are at high risk of abuse, violence and exploitation, this tends to affect the girls and women more. This ranges from sexual abuse, child labour, concealing, neglect, rebuke and derogative language. This abuse, violence and exploitation go on right from the home, to the community and in school. It goes on with impunity and they do not receive any deliberate protection against such vices.
Vocational training and employment opportunities
There are very few vocational training opportunities for youth and children with disabilities in Zambia therefore, they do not have a wide choice when compared with their peers. The available vocational courses are not suitable due to inaccessibility, inappropriate training materials and inadequately trained instructors to handle their needs. The training and instruction methodologies are also not appropriate for different categories of the youth. This is the same with the assessment and examination techniques. The limitation in vocational training limits employment opportunities.
General Effects of the Above
Due to the above difficulties and issues, they continue to feel neglected and discriminated on the basis of other disabilities across all sectors of human development. They continue to remain out of school and if enrolled, they drop out very early and do not attend secondary school. Those who complete secondary education remain without tertiary education. This increases their chances of growing and developing into adults who will require social welfare assistance. Instead of contributing to national development by paying taxes; they drain the funds which could otherwise be channelled to sectors like education and health. There are situations where some children are chained and tied to trees or abandoned which is very traumatising.
We would like the HRC to actively promote our rights as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
A thorough investigation on the status of our rights and fundamental freedoms by the HRC in Zambia. The investigation should be undertaken as a matter of urgency and should provide explicit recommendations to prompt administrative, policy, legislative and programme measures to redress the above human rights issues. Such investigations should directly involve the children, youth and their parents.
HRC should immediately provide interim recommendations based on the above human rights issues to duty bearers on the need to expedite redress for the benefit all affected children and youths.
Government should designate the HRC as the Independent Monitoring Mechanism for the domestication and implementation of the UNCRPD. The HRC should begin to monitor the respect and protection accorded to us.
Government through the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health should begin the consultative process of writing the first State Report to the UN Committee on Disability on issues affecting children and youth in Zambia.
The Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities should begin to carry out awareness creation programmes on the rights and fundamental freedoms by directly involving us.
HRC in conjunction with ZAPCD should carry out awareness creation programmes in schools on our rights children and the obligation of schools and other children without disabilities.
Remember, children are our future, until next week, take care.
CHILDREN’S CORNER with PANIC CHILUFYA