Saja has spent half her life living in conflict. She lost her home, her brother and several loved ones. She also lost her left leg to a bomb. But she has not lost hope in her future. Every day, she makes the long walk to school to continue her education. Saja says her most prized possession is her prosthetic leg. An aspiring gymnast before the conflict, she practices aerial flips every day in her family’s tiny apartment in Aleppo. Her new dream is to compete in the Paralympics. When she isn’t practicing flips or studying, she enjoys playing football with her friends because, she says, “When I play football I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything at all.”
Children with disabilities are at greater risk of exclusion
With an estimated 9.7 million persons with disabilities forcibly displaced because of conflict and persecution, we know there are millions of stories like Saja’s. There are children who acquire disabilities for the first time, children who experience the exacerbation of existing disabilities, and children who develop secondary disabilities. With the erosion of human rights during conflict, children with disabilities are left further marginalized and excluded from basic services such as health care and education.
For children with disabilities to count they must be counted
The lack of reliable data calls for investment in capacity building for humanitarian workers and personnel involved in data collection. Improved information and registration systems for conflict-affected populations, including refugees, are required, and we must begin to collect and report data on inclusion and accessibility of humanitarian programmes and services.
For children with disabilities to be included, they must have access
We also need to ensure that humanitarian programmes are accessible in terms of infrastructure and information, as accessibility is the foundation upon which inclusive societies are built.
UNICEF has released a paper on children with disabilities in armed conflict that provides recommendations on strengthening protection and disability-inclusive humanitarian assistance
Efforts to include children with disabilities
Several significant efforts are under way to make humanitarian assistance for children and adults with disabilities more inclusive. In 2016, participants to the World Humanitarian Summit adopted a Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. Since then, a Task Team of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee has been working to develop guidelines on inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action. The guidelines will be launched in mid-2019. Additionally, in 2017, UNICEF released guidance on the inclusion of children with disabilities in humanitarian action.
Over the last four years, the number of UNICEF Country Offices supporting children with disabilities in emergency contexts has increased more than five-fold with programmes including accessible child-friendly spaces in Jordan, targeted cash transfer programmes in Syria, and accessible items in our emergency kits.
Today UNICEF has released a paper on children with disabilities in armed conflict that examines the heightened risks faced by children with disabilities, and provides recommendations on strengthening protection and disability-inclusive humanitarian assistance. The paper is available on UNICEF Disability section’s website in accessible formats.
Including children with disabilities is an investment in peace
Governments and other stakeholders need to prioritize the inclusion and participation of children and adults with disabilities throughout humanitarian response as they have a key role to play in resolving conflict and in post-conflict reconstruction. Their experiences and inputs are critical in designing practical solutions. Protecting the safety and rights of children with disabilities yields positive results for other children and adults. It benefits society as a whole. It is an investment in sustainable peace.
Help us raise awareness
On December 3rd, we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Please help us raise awareness of the situation of children with disabilities living in countries struck by conflict. You can share the video on the UNICEF Disability section’s website by tagging #IDPD — Children with Disabilities in Armed conflict
Gopal Mitra leads the work on disability-inclusive humanitarian action at UNICEF’s Disability Section, New York.