Distinguished Chair, Hon. Min and dear brother
Excellencies dear colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me, at the outset, to commend the organisers of this event and for giving me the opportunity to make opening remarks from the perspective of the African Union on this important topic.
The African Union affirms its commitment to achieve equality and empowerment of all persons with disabilities. Indeed, the universal Declaration of Human Rights reaffirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Sustainable Development Goal 4, calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education for all; including persons with disabilities regardless of any form of disability, and to providing inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
Education is a right to all children. A child’s development is rooted in education, it impacts his entire life course. Access to quality education has immense potential to enhance social and economic security and reduce poverty as a child transacts from childhood to adulthood. It ensures confidence and literacy, and full participation in society of a child, as an independent human being in his own right.
A child’s enrollment in school is protective against any harmful practice including child marriage, trafficking in persons, children in armed conflict etc.
Across the globe, people with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. These difficulties are even deeper in less-developed countries, the majority of which reside in Africa.
Our children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to education. Children with disabilities who are out of school are not only being deprived of their right to education, they are denied multiple other rights including freedom from discrimination, the right to participation, the right to protection from violence and abuse, and the right to live a full and decent life with dignity and independence, and the right to play an active part in their societies.
Children with disabilities carry a burden of persistent stigmatization from schools and communities they find themselves in, particularly and sadly, those who suffer from neurobiological disorders that results in mental and sometimes physical health problems. There is a lack of understanding that these children have the same right to education and the same ability to learn when provided with relevant support.
What is the AU doing?
In January 2018, the AU Heads of State adopted the African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa and it is anticipated that this would lead to considerable improvements in the lives of African people with disabilities.
The AU Protocol addresses some of the urgent issues that have the most disproportionate impact on people with disabilities, such as poverty, systemic discrimination and harmful practices. This Protocol is open for signature and ratification and is expected to trigger a much greater inclusion of the concerns of people with disabilities in laws, policies and budgets.
This will ensure increased accountability and closer oversight of how states implement their human rights obligations in line with their commitments to the 2030 agenda in order to achieve universal targets that also apply to persons with disabilities through nationally owned sustainable development strategies, supported by integrated national financing frameworks and effective international cooperation.
What can be done. Permit me here to underline 4 points which may also be taken as recommendations some of which have been highlighted.
First, there is a need therefore, to identify and address the root causes of inequalities for all children, particularly for children with disabilities who are among the most marginalized and excluded groups. Denial of schooling for many children in Africa with disabilities must be challenged and addressed to prevent disparities, encourage social inclusion and widen economic opportunities.
Secondly, it is critically important to allocate the required resources to strengthen education provision for children with disabilities with the aim to improve early identification of needs; to provide disability-friendly school environments; to develop inclusive learning materials and equipment; and to train responsive-skilled teachers.
Thirdly, we must apply innovative approaches in promoting a culture that fights against discrimination, in all plans and programmes across African nations, to develop appropriate infrastructure that will enable their movement and access basic human needs like any other normal child, as well as to support inclusive education that embraces diversity and supports children with disabilities.
Lastly, Chair, Distinguished Delegates,
Education for all children is a right, and is a must. We should accelerate implementation. We should improve overall availability, access and use of data. We need to establish a coherent system to identify and categorize different forms of disabilities in children in order to address their special needs. We should monitor how policies relating to children with disabilities in education are translated into tangible practice. This cannot be done effectively without accurate data.
Ladies and gentlemen, for us to address their needs, we must understand them and empower them, as equal partners in Africa’s development.
I thank you all for your attention!!