Uganda, joined the rest of the world to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on the 3rd of December. Under the theme; “Protect and promote the rights of Persons with disabilities during COVID Pandemic: A call to action” Ministry of Education and Sports, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, World Vision and Uganda Child Rights Network held an E-conference to highlight and hear from children with disabilities about the broader impacts of COVID-19 on them.
The Conference engaged these stakeholders in critical discussions on inclusion of children with disabilities in the COVID-19 era. The pandemic has had far reaching negative impacts on children with disabilities that will continue to affect them across their life cycle. These girls and boys are facing heightened vulnerability because of living conditions that are marked by risks to their safety, exposure to violence, and inability to exercise their rights.
John Tereraho, the Programme Quality Director, World Vision explained that, “Children with disabilities are more challenged. Their safety is at risk because they are vulnerable to abuse.” This situation is made worse because communities exclude and stigmatize these children. According to UNICEF report of 2018, 28% of children with disability experience discrimination or harassment, more than one-third of female children with disability have experienced sexual violence.
Mr. Tereraho called on various stakeholders to give more attention to them. “These children are in the category of most vulnerable and unfortunately there are people that believe they are cursed. Mindsets have to change and both parents and leaders need to know these children have rights like other children” added John Tereraho.
About 7.5% of children between 5-17 years and 3.5 % of children between 2-4 years in Uganda have a disability (UBOS & UNICEF 2018). Despite their number, Children with disabilities (CWDs) are among the most neglected groups in the policy domain as well as in the private sphere. Children aged 5to 17 are more affected by unfair treatment when participating in recreation, leisure and sports and such discriminations affect their emotional development.
Children representatives from Western, Eastern and Northern regions shared their challenges during COVID-19. “We have failed to continuously get access to medical care due to the distance to health facilities. In cases where we do, the transport costs are too high because the cyclist or vehicle would have to carry our equipment like wheel chairs too. This was worsened by the COVID-19 lockdown where we could not access the health centres at all due to no transport availability. While at the hospital, we do not have access to translators which puts us at risk of getting wrong medication” Joshua,17 from Rakai district. Children from other regions also stated the inability to access education comfortably due to the unaccommodative infrastructure in schools.
Miriam Akot, the Senior Rehabilitation officer, Department of Disability and Elderly at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said that children with disabilities are at the forefront of Government planning. “Government is reviewing the Persons with Disability policy where children with disabilities will be brought on board and have barriers that hinder them from thriving removed,” Miriam Akot said. She continued to say that children with disabilities have unique needs that need to be addressed.
During the same event, Sarah Bugoosi, Commissioner special needs at the Ministry of Education mentioned that they are in the process of approving the National inclusive education policy which will cater for children with disabilities. She emphasized that this policy will be able to support children with disabilities accesses schools of their choice that are mindful of their needs. She also mentioned that teachers in all schools shall be able to cater for all children inclusive of those with disabilities. Sarah said that the Ministry of Education approved sign language as a necessity in all schools.
This event is one of a series of events hosted by World Vision, to mark the 16 days of activism and the “It Takes A World Campaign to End Violence against Children”.