“Children do not accept unnecessary limits. Neither should we.”

That statement, made in the 2013 edition of The State of the World’s Children by UNICEF’s Executive Director, sums up this year’s UNICEF report and its call to action regarding the support of children with disabilities. Every year UNICEF, an organization dedicated to assisting children in developing countries, releases a report addressing a key topic regarding The State of the World’s Children. In the past they have focused on topics such as children growing up in urban environments, children’s rights, gender equality, and newborn health. The 2013 edition is dedicated to the issue of children with disabilities: it addresses the societal barriers faced by these children and more importantly, how societies around the world can make changes to effectively support and include these children so that they may flourish.

The 2013 UNICEF report analyzes cultures from all over the world, to understand how different societies address the situation of children with disabilities. What they discovered was several cross-cultural trends of exclusion. Children with disabilities are often not given the same opportunities as those without disabilities, and therefore have less potential to lead fulfilling and impactful lives.  In many cases, disabled children are neglected, abandoned, or discriminated against – all forms of exclusion that keep them from living a life they are entitled to.

However, the report also comes to the conclusion that the inclusion of children with disabilities is possible, and has been successful in various societies around the world. UNICEF provides us with a number of examples where children with disabilities are effectively supported in developing countries – through both social policies as well as an increased level of awareness. For example, the School of Hope in Bamako, Mali, offers education to children with hearing impairments all around the country. This school was originally rejected by the Malian society, but after several years of service it has become well-accepted and the discrimination towards hearing impaired children has declined. This is just one example of how a community in a developing country has taken action to include and support children with disabilities.

The ultimate conclusion is simple: few actionable changes will take place towards improving the lives of children with disabilities unless attitudinal changes occur first. This requires an increase in public awareness from governments and health professionals that will help lower prejudice and increase integration into society. Health education and community programs that involve not only the disabled children in question but also their families, peers, schools, and doctors will help spread social responsibility and allow disabled children around the world to feel empowered and important to the societies in which they live. The UNICEF 2013 report concludes with an agenda for action, with the hopes of continually improving the lives of disabled children and their families.

Organizations such as UNICEF, take a step back and determine not just where the problem lies, but more importantly, what steps are needed to resolve it. The 2013 edition of The State of the World’s Children gives us a deeper look into the lives of children with disabilities all over the world, and map out what needs to be done to bring these children from invisibility to inclusion.

Video by UNICEF

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Learn more about UNICEF’s Children With Disabilities and The State of the World’s Children 2013
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