For every child, rights: A celebration

“We mark this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities in the wake of the adoption of the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  This global blueprint for action summons us to “leave no one behind”.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities – a day to celebrate the rights and contributions of persons with disabilities globally. The goal of this day, celebrated around the world, is to promote greater understanding of the rights of persons with disabilities and to mobilize support for building a more inclusive society for all.

This year International Day of Persons with Disabilities coincides with three important landmarks – the 10th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the 70th anniversary of UNICEF and the first year of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want, noting the recent adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Girls, boys and adults with disabilities have mostly been invisible in the global development agenda. UNICEF and partners successfully advocated for disability in the SDGs, which now clearly references disability across multiple targets and indicators.  This is reason for celebration as the SDGs have a crucial role in building a more inclusive and equitable world for all, ensuring that no one left behind.

The 10th anniversary of the CRPD is a major milestone. The CRPD, along with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), provides a framework ensuring children and adolescents with disabilities all rights and freedoms. The CRPD is based on respect for children with disabilities’ identities and their abilities. Children with disabilities are first and foremost children and they have the same rights: the right to grow, play, learn and thrive.

UNICEF has been systematically working with partners around the world (governments, organizations of persons with disabilities, sister UN agencies and civil society organizations) to fulfill the rights of children with disabilities, particularly within the last five years. Guided by the framework of the CRPD, UNICEF currently reaches, supports and empowers children with disabilities in 103 countries worldwide. Our work encourages children’s ability and participation, and inspires innovation that addresses the barriers children and adolescents with disabilities face in their daily lives. UNICEF’s work spans multiple programmatic areas including accessible toilets in schools and communities, disability-inclusive schools and preschools, policy reform, protection from violence abuse and neglect to disability inclusive and accessible services in humanitarian crises.

For example, in the Philippines, the government endorsed a national insurance benefit package for 4 million children with disabilities supported by UNICEF. In Cambodia, UNICEF has helped over 17,000 children with disabilities access birth registration, education and community life. UNICEF has supported accessibility in 424 public schools in Zambia, and in Cuba is training teachers to support the nearly 10,000 children with disabilities studying in mainstream schools. In response to the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, UNICEF provided humanitarian services to about 2,000 children with disabilities.

“For me, children’s rights mean that I and other deaf children have the same rights to go to school as all other children.” Nasoni Nawailagi, 9 year old boy who is deaf, Fiji

For children with disability to count, they must be counted. Data and information on children with disabilities is critical to inform and guide UNICEF’s work and for governments to monitor the implementation of both the CRPD and the SDGs. UNICEF and the Washington Group on Disability Statistics have developed tools to identify children with disabilities.

Stigma and discrimination are the biggest barriers to inclusion. The more people see children with disabilities participating and contributing – seeing what they can do, rather than what they cannot – the more their attitudes will change and societies will become more inclusive. UNICEF and partners advocate for children with disabilities to live free from stigma, discrimination and exclusion, and UNICEF campaigns show an increase in public support for children with disabilities in a number of countries.

Over the last 70 years of UNICEF’s history and particularly, over the last 10 years under the framework of the CRPD, much has been done to provide inclusive services and opportunities to children with disabilities. However, much more needs to be done. December 3 – International Day of Persons with Disabilities – is a time to renew our commitment to disability rights and the inclusion of children with disabilities, to ensure that ensure that no one is left behind.

“Treat us equally, people should judge us for what we can do, not for what,,, we can’t do.” Ann Kwong, Berkley College student who is blind, United States.

Rosangela Berman-Bieler, a quadriplegic, serves as Chief of UNICEF’s Disability Section, part of Cross Cutting Cluster, Programme Division, in New York.  

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