Thursday, October 23, 2008

Disabled children struggle in Afghanistan

From Rawa (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) News in Kabul, Afghanistan:

Abdul Latif lost his legs in a landmine explosion in 2002 shortly after starting primary school in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan. The explosion not only took away his legs but has also deprived him of an education.

“How can I walk all the way to my school? How can I move up the stairs? How can I play with other boys? Who will take me to the toilet?” he asked IRIN in Kabul.

He only recalls a big bang when, on a sunny day, he stepped on a hidden landmine. Surgeons told Abdul Latif that in order to save his life they had no option but to amputate his legs.

“I was sad but doctors assured me that they would give me artificial legs and that I would be able to walk easily,” he said pointing to his prostheses.

In practice, however, he can hardly walk a short distance, even with his crutches. He is permanently dependent on a wheelchair, which he propels with his hands. His prostheses, crutches and wheelchair prove unhelpful, however, when he has to walk up stairs or jump over a gully, he said.

There are at least 200,000 children in Afghanistan living with permanent disability (physical, sensory and/or mental impairment), according to a 2005 survey by Handicap International - a non-governmental organisation supporting people with disability.

Three decades of conflict have left the country strewn with landmines and other explosive remnants of war which kill and/or maim about 60 people, mostly children, each month, the International Committee of the Red Cross has reported.

Afghanistan has yet to join 134 other states that have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which asks signatory states to ensure that “children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education”.

Lack of resources and awareness, and weak political support have, however, contributed to creating a situation whereby schools do not have even minimal facilities for disabled children, officials said.

“About 75 percent of disabled children do not go to school,” Parwin Azimi, an expert on children’s issues with the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Kabul, told IRIN.

Officials at the Ministry of Education (MoE) said the lack of facilities for disabled children was a major impediment to their education.

“Due to a lack of resources and expertise, our strategy for the promotion of disabled children’s education has only remained on paper,” Azim Karbalaye, planning director of the MoE, told IRIN.

While the exact number of Afghans living with disability is unclear, Handicap International’s survey estimated there were 800,000 in 2005 - over half of them under 19. Since 2005 the widening conflict and the influx of returnees has probably increased these figures, say experts.

Despite this, the government does not have policies in place to promote employment among people with permanent disability; and has been perceived to have done too little to ensure their rights.

Disability is hard enough to cope with in wealthy countries, but when over half of the population lives on less than US$2 a day as in Afghanistan, things are doubly difficult.
“We feel excluded from society,” said Hazrat Gul, a disabled man in Kabul.

“Everything - jobs, education, transport, entertainment - is for the able-bodied… We’re only left on the road to beg and survive,” he said.