THE United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates 3.3 million, or 8 percent, of children under the age of 18 in the Philippines are living with disabilities. The actual number could be higher.
“They are often likely to be among the poorest members of the population. They are less likely to attend school, access medical services, or have their voices heard in society. Their disabilities also place them at a higher risk of physical abuse, and often exclude them from receiving proper nutrition or humanitarian assistance in emergencies,” said Julia Reese, Unicef deputy representative in the Philippines.
She made the statement at the opening of the SM Supermalls See What I Can Do photo exhibit, in partnership with the Camera Club of the Philippines and Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
Reese said the 8 percent of children with disabilities (CWDs) is almost like a world standard. “Children with disabilities have the same social needs, interests and rights as any other child but due to social stigma and daily discrimination, they are often denied opportunities for participation and integration,” Rees said.
She said discriminations could be negative attitudes, lack of adequate policies and legislations. Rees said communities should engage CWDs into their activities to make the environment more inclusive for them.
“Children with disabilities and their communities would both benefit if society focused on what those children can achieve. We should see the wealth of ability that each child with disability can offer and enable them to engage and participate in their communities,” she said.
Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo started her speech asking the audience what Tom Cruise, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, and George Washington, Helen Keller, Beethoven and Stephen Hawking have in common. “They all have physical difficulties,” she said, saying,“Einstein did not speak until age 3, George Washington could barely write, and Tom Cruise is severely dyslexic.”
“And yet, all of them are known around the world for the great things that they have done for humanity,” she said. “Imagine what would have happened if somebody failed to notice their brilliance as a child. Or they were excluded in their communities. Can we even imagine the loss we as a specie [sic] would have suffered?”
“If I could go back in time, I want to know how these giants of humanity overcame their difficulties and how they were empowered enough to let their talents shine. The people who develop the will and the discipline to thrive in tight and dark corners are the ones who redefine reality and make the world a better place,” she said.
Robredo, who used to be a representative from Bicol, said Congress, in 1992, enacted the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act. She said the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child saw this as proof of the Philippines’s commitment to fulfill its obligations under the convention ratified by our country in 1990. Since then, Congress enacted the Anti-Child Labor, Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children, Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, Anti-Child Pornography, Foster Care, Anti-Bullying, she said.
There are still the pending bills on child protection that must be legislated, such as Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict, Raising the Age of Consent to Determine Statutory Rape, Civil Registration and the Positive Discipline and Anti-Corporal Punishment bill, and the act establishing special education, or SPED, centers for children with special needs in all public schools, she added.
“The last one is particularly powerful. As you all know, it is prohibitively expensive for poor families to give a good education to children with special needs. The ability to get a good education early on in life will mean the difference between exclusion and inclusion.”