Top of page

When all truly means everyone: Fulfilling the right to education of children with disabilities in our global education crisis response

Disabled girl in a wheelchair

When she was just 16, Nujeen Mustafa made a 3,500-mile journey from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. Nujeen didn’t attend school in Syria like the other girls and boys – even before the war broke out. She was one of the millions of children denied their human right to an education, simply because of their disabilities.

Nujeen’s incredible journey is an inspiring story of hope. However, for a majority of children with disabilities in the midst of armed conflict and crises, their stories unfortunately don’t end as positively as Nujeen’s.

We can no longer leave these children, among those left furthest behind, in the shadows.

This week, the International Disability Alliance (IDA), Government of Norway, and Government of Ghana hosted the Global Disability Summit. This second Summit built on the results achieved at the first Summit, hosted by the United Kingdom four years ago.

Now is the time to monitor the progress achieved since then, hold those who made promises to account, and further accelerate much-needed action towards the fulfillment of the rights of persons with disabilities worldwide.

Education must come first as we work together to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities, can access education, learn and build a better future for themselves, their families, communities and society.

Think about how many girls and boys like Nujeen are being denied their right to an education. Worldwide, about 10% are children with disabilities. According to UNICEF,  “children with disabilities have 42% fewer chances of achieving foundational reading and numeracy skills. The probability of never attending school is 49% higher for them.”

For those caught in emergencies and protracted crises in places like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chad, Syria and beyond, the situation becomes even more dire.

Imagine a child unable to walk living in a refugee camp where only bumpy dirt roads lead to the only school around and where you need to climb stairs to access classrooms?

In our global efforts to build a more peaceful and prosperous world – and make good on commitments to ensure universal and equitable education as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals – we have a moral obligation towards children with disabilities.

Equality starts with education. Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, is making a concerted effort to address the institutional gaps that have pushed so many children with disabilities to the margins.

On the ground, we are working with governments, civil society organizations, United Nations agencies, donors and other partnerships to make education inclusive. Only then will children with disabilities access meaningful learning opportunities on an equal basis with others.

In Iraq, as we worked with partners on the ground to develop our Multi-Year Resilience Programme, we engaged with the Iraqi Alliance for Disability Organizations to analyze barriers and risks and ultimately to enhance inclusive quality education in emergencies and protracted crises for all children, including those with disabilities.

Like in Iraq, engagement of children with disabilities and their parents – together with civil society organizations focusing on disability – is increasingly becoming central in ECW investments to identify and remove barriers and risks they face, and ultimately, address their priorities and realize their aspirations.

Interventions take many shapes and forms based on the context on the ground, changing lives, one child at a time.

Yasmina is a Rohingya refugee living in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. She has learning difficulties, physical disabilities and severe speech difficulties. Without targeted support, Yasmina would have become just another statistic – one of millions of disabled children denied their human rights.

With funding from ECW, Yasmina is now attending school at a learning center. Her teachers received specialized training and a back-to-learning campaign ensured girls like her were included in these new educational opportunities.

This is happening in hot spots across the globe. In Ethiopia, Ali  who is a child with physical and mental challenges can attend school. In Ecuador, ECW’s support is helping Jair – who has an intellectual disability – to stay in school, laying down the foundation to realize his aspiration to become a mechanic one day. In Syria, Kawthar– who lives with a physical disability and has been displaced five times in her short life – is back to learning through a programme designed to help children catch up and even provides transportation so they can get to and from school safely.

Now is the time to take these interventions to scale, and realize the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Together with our partners, ECW is committed to reaching 10% of children with disabilities across our investment portfolio. To do this, additional resources are urgently required.

Together, we must ensure that all girls and boys – like Nujeen, Yasmina, Ali, Jair and Kawthar – can access education and the opportunity it provides to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.

About the Author

profile icon
Yasmine Sherif