When I started my career in disability rights it was a challenge to get people with disabilities heard in policy dialogues and meetings where world issues and development plans were discussed. Hearing children with disabilities’ voices in these forums simply did not happen.
More than 15 years on, we now see a tremendous upsurge in children as human rights defenders, especially in the climate change movement. This fantastic engagement by and for children proves that children know what kind of world they want to see and they certainly can demand it. And so do children with different disabilities! Still, they continue to fall behind and be both systematically and accidentally excluded from child-led initiatives and consequently also from decision-making processes that affect them.
The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities both make it clear that all children, without discrimination based on disability, have the right to freedom of expression, to seek, receive and have access to information as well as freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
In our new Disability Inclusion Policy, we, at Save the Children, committed to advocating with and for children with disabilities at the local, national and global levels to amplify their voices and hold duty-bearers to account. Here are some examples of how through our work we are doing just that.
CHILDREN MEET GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES IN KOSOVO
During World Children’s Day celebrations, we supported children with different disabilities who are part of two child-led advocacy groups, "Hëna" (“Moon” in English) and “Respect Our Right” to work together with child-led Municipal Assemblies to hold meetings with different parts of the government to advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. The slogan of the children’s campaign was "Movement Without Obstacles, Is A Basic Right!". Their demand was simple: to allocate further resources to effectively implement the Administrative Instruction Law which regulates the construction of disabled-accessible structures across the country.
The child rights activists received commitments from the government to increase their engagement and resources to implement the Law and that they will work to improve access for children with disabilities in public institutions – a great win for the children with disabilities in Kosovo.
"HENA group was a great opportunity for me and children with disabilities to develop and learn new things, to meet with different people and encouraged us to be active and contribute on improving issues concerning us". – Erma, 16 year-old-boy, from "Hëna"
CHILDREN’S REVIEW THE UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REPORT IN SUDAN
Maysoon Idris is a 15 year-old-girl from Sudan who uses sign language, and as such has sadly witnessed countless verbal and physical abuse towards deaf children.
She took part in a Universal Periodic Report review process organised by Save the Children and partners to inform the government of Sudan on the rights of children with disabilities.
“No child should be made to feel uncomfortable and that situation has to change. Children should know about their rights and how to advocate for them’”, says Maysoon
Maysoon, a 15-year-old from Sudan explaining how she took part in the UPR process
“One of the challenges I faced while advocating for my case in my community was the difficulty of communication because they did not know sign language. Through the Sudanese National Deaf Association I got to learn about my rights and how to advocate for my case.” – she continues
The process resulted in submitting a report to the Ministry of Justice in August 2021 that included recommendations to end child marriage and other forms of abuse experienced by girls, including those with disabilities as well as to increase public investment in children with disabilities. These recommendations were consequently included in the submission to the Human Rights Council.
I want the government of Sudan to provide children with the means to protect themselves from violence and harassment, especially those with disabilities, to achieve social justice for all children”, says Maysoon
Maysoon, who through the process, learnt how to protect herself from violence, encourages all child leaders to know more about their rights and to spread the culture of protection from violence.
CHILDREN AND YOUTH MONITOR AND DEMAND RIGHTS IN RWANDA
As part of a two-year project in Rwanda, we supported 14 youths and 9 children to monitor government commitments to the rights of children and youth with disabilities using the Disability Rights Promotion International methodology. Children, supported by their youth peers, collected individual experiences of children and young people with disabilities, reviewed laws and policies and looked at how media portrayed children with disabilities. The children were taught about their rights and developed new skills while also producing reliable data and evidence around the situation of children with disabilities in the country.
A girl from Musanze District said: “I was not aware that I am allowed to demand my rights in all the domains like home, police, sector, etc.”
Children with disabilities in DPRI training session learning to monitor state commitments to child rights.
A boy from Nyanza District said: “Now I know where to report if any of my colleagues with disabilities tell me issues she/he is facing”.
Findings were shared with the government who is now using the report to inform strategies to improve the lives of children with disabilities in Rwanda. For example, evidence and recommendations from the report have been used to decide how to improve accessibility in schools and combat negative attitudes in the community towards children with disabilities. A Disability and Child grant is also being discussed to address financial barriers to education and livelihood for families with children with disabilities, as a result of this child-led report.
ADULTS PLAY A ROLE IN SUPPORTING CHILDREN TO BE HEARD
Many children are excellent at claiming their forum and demanding their space to have their voices heard. This does not take away the fact that adults and adult-led organisations should support children in getting their voices strengthened and heard, and pave the way for meaningful, inclusive and dignified child participation and child-led initiatives.
In fact, we should make an explicit effort to support those children who are most impacted by inequalities and discrimination, like children with disabilities, to have their voices heard. Save the Children will do this by continuing and expanding our support through projects like those in Rwanda, Sudan and Kosovo and we hope you will all join us!