Belize has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which provides Belize with a framework that will help to guide policy decisions on behalf of persons with disabilities. In order to move forward with an effective agenda it is important to get a better understanding of the current situation. With that in mind, UNICEF Belize and partners launched the Situational Analysis of Children with Disabilities and the Situational Analysis of Blind and Visually Impaired Children on Thursday, August 22nd.
Kim Simplis Barrow, Special Envoy for Woman and Children and champion for the cause of people living with disabilities, said, “The situational analysis on visually impaired and blind children in Belize is certainly a significant contribution to the body of knowledge on children with disabilities in our country.” She continued, “Children with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups, and ironically they are one of the groups in our society that we have the least evidence-based information about.”
The situational analysis shows that 36.4% of children age 2 to 9 in Belize are at risk of having one or more disabilities such as physical, auditory and visual impairment, learning disability or intellectually challenged. That represents an increase of 10% since 2006. Children in rural communities are at a higher risk than children in urban areas; 41.4% to 28.3%. The two most frequent disabilities are speech and intellectual impairments. Barrow said, “Our children that are blind are more generally understood and accepted than other children with disabilities.” She continued, “Once the Inspiration Center is established, we will partner with all the different organizations to do a number of PR campaigns.” She hopes to raise awareness on various different disabilities affecting people in Belize.
Barrow’s intentions are in line with the recommendations from The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities which was also presented by UNICEF Belize at the launch on Thursday. There are nine recommendations for countries that have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. First is for them to ratify and implement the convention. Two; the countries must fight discrimination and enhance the awareness of disability among the general public, decision makers and those who provide essential services in fields such as education, health and protection. Three; dismantle barriers to inclusion so that all children’s environment- schools, health facilities, public transport and so on- facilitate access and encourage the participation of children with disabilities alongside their peers. Four; end the institutionalization of children with disabilities starting with a moratorium on new admissions. Five; support families so they can meet the higher costs of living and lost opportunities to earn income associated with caring for children with disabilities. Six; move beyond minimum standards by involving children and adolescents with disabilities and their families in evaluating supports and services designed to meet their needs. Seven; coordinate services across all sectors so as to address the full range of challenges facing children and adolescents with disabilities and their family. Eight; involve children and adolescents with disabilities in decision making that affect them. Nine; promote a concerted global research agenda on disability to generate the reliable and comparable data needed to guide planning and resource allocation.
Belize is one of many countries that are attempting to implement these recommendations. Ivan Yerovi, new UNICEF Country Representative, said he has only been in Belize a short time now “but I hope by the time I leave, in four to five years, all children with disabilities will have the opportunity to enrol in the school of their choice.” Kim Simplis-Barrow has been pushing towards total inclusion for many years. She said, “We’ve come a long way; we still have a long, long way to go.”