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Nearly 240 million children with disabilities around the world: UNICEF

cheerful kids playing together in daycare center for kids with disabilities

New report from UNICEF exposes the depth of deprivation experienced by the 1 in 10 children with disabilities worldwide across several indicators of well-being, including health, education and protection.

The number of children with disabilities globally is estimated at almost 240 million, according to a new UNICEF report. Children with disabilities are disadvantaged compared to children without disabilities on most measures of child well-being, the report says.

“This new research confirms what we already knew: Children with disabilities face multiple and often compounding challenges in realizing their rights,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “From access to education, to being read to at home; children with disabilities are less likely to be included or heard on almost every measure. All too often, children with disabilities are simply being left behind.”

The report includes internationally comparable data from 42 countries and covers more than 60 indicators of child well-being – from nutrition and health, to access to water and sanitation, protection from violence and exploitation, and education. These indicators are disaggregated by functional difficulty type and severity, child’s sex, economic status, and country. The report makes clear the barriers children with disabilities face to participating fully in their societies and how this often translates to negative health and social outcomes.

Compared with children without disabilities, children with disabilities are:

  • 24 per cent less likely to receive early stimulation and responsive care;
  • 42 per cent less likely to have foundational reading and numeracy skills;
  • 25 per cent more likely to be wasted and 34 per cent more likely to be stunted;
  • 53 per cent more likely to have symptoms of acute respiratory infection;
  • 49 per cent more likely to have never attended school;
  • 47 per cent more likely to be out of primary school, 33 per cent more likely to be out of lower-secondary school and 27 per cent more likely to be out of upper secondary school;
  • 51 per cent more likely to feel unhappy;
  • 41 per cent more likely to feel discriminated against;
  • 32 per cent more likely to experience severe corporal punishment.

However, the disability experience varies greatly. The analysis demonstrates that there is a spectrum of risks and outcomes depending on the type of disability, where the child lives, and what services they can access. This highlights the importance of designing targeted solutions to address inequities.

Access to education is one of several subjects examined in the report. Despite widespread agreement on the importance of education, children with disabilities are still falling behind. The report finds children with difficulty communicating and caring for themselves are the most likely to be out of school, regardless of education level. Out-of-school rates are higher among children with multiple disabilities and disparities become even more significant when the severity of the disability is taken into account.

“Inclusive education cannot be considered a luxury. For far too long, children with disabilities have been excluded from society in a way that no child ever should be. My lived experience as a woman with disabilities supports that statement,” says Maria Alexandrova, 20, a UNICEF youth advocate for inclusive education from Bulgaria. “No child, especially the most vulnerable, should have to fight for their basic human rights alone. We need governments, stakeholders and NGOs to ensure children with disabilities have equal, inclusive access to education.”

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