THE BLOG

Caught Up In Conflict, Children With Disabilities Must Be Helped

04/12/2016 17:08 GMT | Updated 02/12/2017 10:12 GMT
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Even at the best of times, people with disabilities can find themselves feeling invisible - their rights, concerns and the many obstacles they face are hidden from the world.

Globally, up to 150 million people living with disabilities are children. Whatever their circumstances, they are often the most vulnerable and excluded in their communities, and are at higher risk of poverty, discrimination and violence. They often face difficulties accessing basic services such as healthcare and education.

And today, as conflicts and crises rage around the world, it's disabled children in affected areas who are among those most at risk. Often the first to be left behind and the last to have their needs met in chaotic emergency situations, children with disabilities face unprecedented adversity in conflicts.

Michael, 14, fled violence in the Central African Republic and found shelter in a refugee camp in Cameroon with his parents. He cannot walk, but enrolled in a school in the camp in spite of the challenges of getting there every day.

"I spent nearly an hour crawling to school every day, located 400 metres from my home", says Michael.

"I always arrived late. When it rained, I had to crawl in dirty water and mud."

Plan International provided Michael with a wheelchair to help him get to and from school. He also received a Disabled Persons' Card that gives him free access to public schools, as well as reduced cost healthcare and public transport services.

"Since I got my wheelchair, I get to school on time. Some of my schoolmates who use to laugh at me now play with me and offer to push me around", Michael says.

But children with disabilities do not just face challenges in the midst of a war zone.

Mohand is a nine-year old Syrian boy with learning difficulties and epilepsy. Three years ago, when intensive bombing destroyed the area where Mohand and his family lived, they were forced to flee, first to Lebanon and then to Egypt, where they now live.

Although the family is now safe from the immediate dangers of war, they struggle to get by. Mohand's father can no longer work due to health issues, and the family can barely cover their basic costs including rent, food, healthcare and education.

Thanks to Plan International, Mohand takes part in recreational activities with other children. He's never been to school before, and for the first time, his disability is no longer a barrier. He's learning basic life skills, and receiving support to recover from the trauma of what he's left behind.

Mohand's mother, who herself receives financial and parenting support, sees this as his first step towards independence - she hopes that one day her son will be able to attend school.

For children like Mohand, we can't afford for disability to be a 'first world problem.' It is our job to ensure that every child is given the support they need, without discrimination or exclusion, whatever the circumstances they find themselves in.