By Selamawit Yilma, ChildFund Ethiopia
Every June 16, the Day of the African Child, brings together representatives from African Union states, development organizations and other groups to discuss issues pertaining to the children of Africa. This year’s theme, “The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill,” focuses on the unequal treatment of children with disabilities. We interviewed Hannan Endale, inclusive programming specialist, at ChildFund Ethiopia, who knows the challenges faced by those with disabilities due to her own impairment—blindness.
Would you please tell us your understanding of the Day of the African Child?
In my view, Day of the African Child is a very important event that needs widespread attention. By educating the public about the potential, rights and concerns of children, we have the chance to make the world a friendlier place for them to live. However, because the day is better known by child-focused organizations, there is a strong need to engage other governmental organizations and potential stakeholders.
How do you perceive the theme for this year?
This theme is timely, focusing on the right topic at the right time. We have seen a worldwide shift in the discussion of the rights of people with disabilities due to the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The convention draws attention to the rights of children with disabilities in diverse arenas and recalls “obligations to that end undertaken by States.” Our country, Ethiopia, has been a state party to this convention since 2010. The 2012 theme for the Day of the African Child gives us the opportunity to develop our understanding about the rights of children with disabilities and to work for the improvement of the quality of their lives.
Would you address how to protect and support children with disabilities?
Children with disabilities are not enjoying the same privileges as their counterparts, nor are they receiving equal treatment. Neglect, abandonment and discrimination are among the injustices faced by disabled children.
Futhermore, there is a lack of commitment to increase their involvement in activities that may enhance their personal development. These children are also overlooked as valuable assets to the well-being of the community. For that reason, it is our responsibility to ensure that their rights are protected, respected and fulfilled while encouraging the government to bear the same duties.
If we truly have a child’s best interest in mind, we must not fail to include those children with disabilities. They deserve to have the opportunity to grow, develop and enjoy their childhood by exercising the same rights as everyone. Institutional, environmental and attitudinal barriers that hinder their full, equal and effective participation in society have to be removed. Most importantly, the children themselves have to be given the opportunity to participate actively in the development of policies that will affect them.
Could you explain how ChildFund is working in this area and how it plans to strengthen the support given to children with disabilities?
ChildFund, in partnership with Pact Ethiopia and Family Health International 360, is the technical lead organization in the Yekokeb Berhan Program for Highly Vulnerable Children—a program funded by USAID.
Yekokeb Berhan is committed to providing high-quality, age-appropriate, inclusive services for all children. In the program, we ensure that all excluded children are given the proper attention in every aspect of the project. ChildFund is playing a leading role in fulfilling this objective by initiating strategies to provide equitable access to services for individuals and groups, and specialized techniques that will foster participation of excluded individuals or groups within the Yekokeb Berhan Program.
How does it feel to work with these children and ChildFund?
Working with a program that has had this much impact in reducing the challenges faced by highly vulnerable children gives me great personal and professional satisfaction. It is my hope to see my fellow citizens lead a life free from discrimination and poverty.
As a person with a disability, I know, firsthand, what it means to live a life of segregation. And I know the feeling of being discriminated against and unaccepted because of one’s abilities. Having experienced those feelings, it is more than a pleasure to be part of ChildFund’s mission to support children with disabilities.