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Advocates focus on African children's disabilities

Published: Tuesday, June 19 2012 10:16 a.m. MDT

Thousands of South African children took to the street to fight for a cause more than 30 years ago — better education, and ultimately, a better life. June 16 may be a normal day for most people, but for Africans this date commemorates the day these children risked their lives and fought for a cause that still resonates with families and children to this day.

The Day of the African Child, celebrated every year on June 16, not only memorializes those children, most of whom lost their lives in their fight, but it also reminds the world just how many African children continue to struggle to this day to overcome not only poverty and confront their disabilities. The theme for this year's observance was “The rights of children with disabilities: The duty to protect, respect, promote and fulfill,” according to an article posted on the UN News Centre.

African children living with disabilities are at the forefront of discussion for organizations like UNICEF, whose members are promoting and advocating awareness, along with action, to help these children, especially in light of the recent day of commemoration.

Services like allAfrica, which compiles and distributes news articles relating to Africa from more than 130 media organizations, help spread the word about new developments and issues affecting populations across the continent.

"Country-specific information suggests that between 5 and 10 percent of all children in Africa grow up with disabilities," according to an article posted on allAfrica. "The leading causes of disability, in addition to genetic disorders and complications during birth, include poliomyelitis, measles, meningitis and cerebral malaria, as well as inadequate prenatal and neonatal health care services and inadequate diet leading to stunting."

More needs to be done not just in Africa but also in other parts of the world in order to effectively address and help the millions of children worldwide who suffer from some from of disability, the organization recommended.

"The realities of disability are alarming in all parts of the world," a UNICEF article reported. "Legislation, policies and attitudes that fail to recognize the legal capacity of children with disabilities are factors that aggravate their discrimination and exclusion of society and increase their vulnerability to violence, abuse and exploitation."

Disabilities can affect every aspect of the lives of children and prohibit them from actively engaging in education and other processes that lead to a better future, UNICEF continues.

“Children living with disabilities continue to be the most excluded among all groups of children in Africa. Only a small portion of them are in school, and far fewer receive the adequate inclusive education they need,” said the chief of UNICEF’s Disability Unit, Rosangela Berman Bieler, on the allAfrica post.

There have been strides in recent years toward improvement in some countries, but there is still a significant division across the continent.

"So far, 25 out of 55 African countries have not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the landmark 2006 treaty that seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the same human rights as everyone else," according to the U.N. News Centre article on the UNICEF website.

Many countries are making substantial improvement in the area, however, and some disability numbers are on a postive upward trend over the past decade.

"Several African countries introduced specific legislation, national policies or strategies to respond to the needs of children with disabilities," the UN News Centre article also reported. "Rwanda is one of the countries that invested significantly in specialized education for children with disabilities. The number of children benefiting from special education there increased from 632 in 2000 to around 17,000 in 2010."

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