Minister of Education Priya Manickchand says government is taking more aggressive steps to address the needs of children with disabilities and is in the process of formalising a five-year action plan to deal with the issue more assertively.
Manickchand made this announcement during her address at the launch of Unicef’s State of the World’s Children Report 2013, on May 30 at the National Park, and pointed out that a nation’s success can be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable people.
According to a Government Information Agency (GINA) press release, the minister said while much has been done to meet the needs of persons with disabilities stakeholders must get involved to respond to the varying levels of vulnerability, the most severe being disabled children living in poverty.
In outlining the various levels of poverty and Guyana’s efforts to overcome it, Manickchand compared two World Bank studies on Guyana. The first published in 1991 indicated that 67% of Guyanese were living in poverty which had reduced to 35% by 2008. This, she said, demonstrated that prudent management by the government had cut poverty by nearly half over the stated period.
She also referred to the Education for All Fast Track Initiative which assisted Guyana with its School Feeding Programme and will now withdraw that support as the country has been upgraded to a middle income country and can manage the programme on its own. Manickchand further said that while Guyana has done well economically more can be done, “if we can implement everything that is in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, then we would be well on our way to addressing all the issues that we need to address.”
“I think it is incumbent on state, Government and NGOs and everybody involved, to change the circumstance for people living with disabilities around the world, and particularly for children living with disabilities. That is why I believe [the report] …is timely, is a good reminder to the world, that we have a lot of work left to be done in the area of disabilities,” she said.
Meanwhile, Evelyn Hamilton, Chairperson of the National Commission on Disability (NCD) was heartened by the recommendations made in the Unicef report which she said validated the Commission’s efforts. She also rededicated the disability friendly playground in the National Park which was rehabilitated by the Inner-Wheel Club of Georgetown.
“They both deal with advocacy for the inclusion of children with disability in all levels of society and all the various aspects of our lives,” Hamilton said, adding this is consistent with the NCD’s ideals which looks forward to a society where persons with disabilities can lead full and productive lives.
Dr Suleiman Braimoh, Unicef Representative to Guyana and Suriname, explained that the focus on children with disabilities simply refers to persons under the age of 18 who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment, which may interfere with interaction, create various barriers, and/or hinder the full and effective participation of those children in society on an equal basis with others. The major challenge, he emphasised, is “on an equal basis,” GINA said.
Dr. Braimoh explained that while the 2013 report stated that there are at least one billion people in the world with disabilities, one in 10 are children and 80% of those children are in developing countries. “So the challenge is in ensuring that children living with disabilities are enabled to participate on an equal basis, and the majority of that burden rests on developing countries, including a country like Guyana,” he said.
Special needs children and mainstream society
According to Dr Braimoh more than 600 children are enrolled in special needs schools across the country. However, most of them are in urban areas on the coast with less penetration in the hinterland, “which is not peculiar.” He also referred to a 2005 survey by the NCD, Unicef and the Office of the President. Out of 1500 persons living with disability in Regions 4, 6, 7 and 9, it was found that 61% were able to attend educational facilities, while 59% were not able to have access. This meant that 59% of persons living with disabilities never attended school. This, he declared is what Unicef is interested in.
“The most vulnerable children are in need of support and assistance,” Dr Braimoh said. Unicef, he noted, is using the launch of the report to add its voice and make sure attention and effort is placed on the issue, “they must not and should not be treated as members on the fringes of society. Rather, they need to be made members of the mainstream of society,” he said. The Unicef representative also pointed out that there is the need to shift away from the emphasis that the issue of disability has to do only with education and realise and understand that it pertains to general participation in society. The focus needs to be shifted in such a way, that with full participation, children with disabilities are really seen the way they should be, the press release said.
“I recommit Unicef to providing the support to the Government of Guyana and indeed, we are in the process of supporting the Government of Guyana to undertake a multiple indicator process of the country through which we can get the most up to date data available on children in the country, including children with disabilities,” Dr. Braimoh said.