Children with disabilities are often invisible in policies, in data and in societies, as revealed in the findings of State of the World’s Children (SOWC) report, 2013 which was launched at the Clock Tower Square.
The global launch took place on May 30, 2013, and the official launch in Bhutan was made by Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck at the Lingkana Palace on August 14.
The event at the Clock Tower Square was presided over by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Tshering Pem Wangchuck and HRH Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck amidst an array of dignitaries including the education minister Mingbo Dukpa, health minister Tandin Wangchuk, labour minister Ngeema Sangay Chenpo and UNICEF representative Shaheen Nilofer among others.
The report shows that data on the children with disabilities are essential in overcoming ignorance and discrimination, and in making decisions about how to allocate resources, eliminate barriers, design and provide services, and meaningfully evaluate such interventions.
Shaheen Nilofer said children with special needs do not receive equal health care and educational opportunities in comparison to other children. “Children with disabilities have the same rights as any child and should be able to fully enjoy those rights,” Nilofer said and added, “There is a dream we all share to be counted and have our gifts and talents recognized.”
She also said that the data on children are often unreliable, but Bhutan is fortunate as it is the one of the first countries in the world to have conducted the second stage of two-stage child disability study among children aged two to nine.
Education minister Mingbo Dukpa said while much progress has been made, “We still have much to achieve. We need to expand our services to promote access to all children with special needs, including children with severe disabilities.”
Lyonpo Mingbo also reported that for the first time, sign language for Dzongkha has been developed, which will formalize uniform sign language and assures that the ministry will work together with concerned partners to give better opportunities for children with special needs.
The prevalence rate of disability in Bhutan is found to be at 21 percent. Among the different domains, cognitive disability is the most prevalent at 15 percent. The prevalence of children with a single disability is 13.8 percent compared to 7.6 percent prevalence of children living with multiple disabilities. Disability prevalence is higher among children of illiterate mothers, poor and those living in remote areas. Tsirang recorded the highest prevalence of disability with 33 percent and Lhuntse recorded the lowest with 8 percent.
“ Stigma, ignorance, misperception heighten discrimination against children with disabilities. Their abilities are underestimated, often on multiple levels. They are excluded because it is assumed that ‘cannot keep up’ whether intellectually or physically,” said Nilofer.
She added that the helplessness, dependency may come from society at large, and in minds of family members of the community reinforcing the message that children with disabilities cannot contribute.
She said, “We must accept disability as a part of human diversity with equitable and approaches in areas such as early childhood development, health, nutrition, education, recreation systems and protection. We must dismantle the barriers to inclusion, build ramps, widen doors, change negative attitudes, move beyond minimum standards, coordinate services to support the child, especially in early childhood and involve children with disabilities in making decisions-they are agents of change, not beneficiaries of charity,” she added.
Nilofer assured UNICEF’s support for the continuous efforts by the government, especially through education ministry to ratify convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, and its full and effective implementation.
Presently, Bhutan has eight schools catering to children with special needs, with two schools providing specialized services for the visually and hearing impaired. As of June 2013, there are special educational needs (SEN) students with 259 teachers catering to them. Of the total number, 257 are boys and the rest 182 girls.
The theme for this year’s SOWC report launch is “Children with Disabilities”. It is UNICEF’s annual flagship publication highlighting the situation of children around the world. Every year the report focuses on a special theme and this year, the focus is on children with disabilities.
For this year’s launch, UNICEF is partnered with MoE, Bhutan Youth Development Fund, National Commission for Women Children (NCWC), Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and Ability Bhutan Society, Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children, Youth and Disabled Persons Association of Bhutan.
Special needs students from Changangkha middle secondary school, Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children, Ability Bhutan Society and Disabled Association of Bhutan took part in the event.