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Recognise rights of children with disabilities

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Today, June 16, Africa marks the Day of the African Child in memory of schoolchildren massacred on June 16, 1976 in Soweto, South Africa, for demonstrating against inferior education offered to black children.

This years theme The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfil, is an indictment of the attitudes of the government of Zimbabwe and its citizens towards children with disabilities.

As a nation, we are found wanting for lack of deliberate policies that target children and adults with disabilities. This is reflected in the lack of laws that specifically promote and protect children with disabilities.

What makes it even worse is the deafening silence in the Constitution about it. The envisaged new constitution currently at drafting stage does not give hope that anything will change in this regard because people with disabilities are not represented in the constitution-making body.

There are no specifics about the need to recognise, promote and protect people with disabilities in our legislation. This silence engenders the discrimination of such people because, as a result, society overlooks their abilities as their capacities are underestimated.

Studies have shown, and correctly so, that obstacles hindering the full participation of people with disabilities are entrenched in the environment rather than in individuals.

The way our society distributes resources is testimony to the negative attitude inherent in society in relation to people with disabilities. The National Budget does not have specific funds dedicated to the development of people with disabilities.

The few schools that cater for such people are mostly owned by private individuals and voluntary organisations. Infrastructure and material that targets the development of children and adults with disabilities is scarce and the government seems not to notice.

Because children with disabilities do not have facilities that enable them to grow up with other children, they suffer discrimination and exclusion.

Discrimination from service provision denies them access to quality education and access to health and social services concomitant with their needs. When they enter adulthood, they are confronted with the horror of unfriendly labour policies that do not cater for their needs.

Because these children attend schools that are different from their peers, they face ills such as social stigma and prejudices. This effectively shuts the door to appropriate vocational and technical training, a recipe for missing out on job opportunities.

The idea of exclusive schools should be revisited as it fosters discrimination.

Instead, schools should incorporate structures that enable children with disabilities to mix and mingle with their peers. The government should take the lead in the education and development of children with disabilities unlike the present scenario where it seems content to let non-governmental actors take the initiative.

It is important that as we commemorate the Day of the African Child we revisit our attitudes towards the education and development of children with physical challenges.

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