By Tazeen Qureshi
DOHA, Qatar, 26 January 2012 – At the fifth annual International Shafallah Forum, held from 22 to 24 January in Doha, Dr. Rima Salah, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director (a.i.), stressed the need not to let children with disabilities be the forgotten victims of emergencies.
The Shafallah Forum focuses on the needs of persons with disabilities around the world, particularly those facing situations of crisis or conflict. This year’s forum highlighted the need for humanitarian actions to involve persons with disabilities in times of emergencies.
Humanitarian response for children with disabilities
Children with disabilities often experience marginalization and disempowerment. They have limited access to social services, including education, and are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, neglect, stigma and discrimination. Too often, they are subjected to bullying and other negative attitudes and behaviours that limit their participation.
And their vulnerability increases in emergencies.
“In time of crisis, children with disabilities and their families become even more vulnerable. Their needs are often overlooked, and they face a higher risk of becoming victims of injuries, abuse and neglect,” Dr. Salah said.
Developing effective responses and recovery programmes for persons with disabilities is essential, forum participants noted.
“It is the responsibility of all of us to work in partnership so the rights and needs of children and adults living with disabilities are not neglected, that their voices are heard, and that they are involved in the process of building an inclusive response to help prevent injuries and to assist the survivors,” Dr. Salah said.
“Children and adults with disabilities must have a voice and have access to the same opportunities as their peers in both development and humanitarian context,” she continued.
Improving humanitarian responses for children with disabilities is consonant with UNICEF’s equity approach, a push to ensure all children – regardless of disability, gender, income, religion or geographic location – are allowed to reach their fullest potential.
One Billion Strong
The Conference also witnessed the launch of One Billion Strong, a new global initiative dedicated to disability awareness, rights and education.
The initiative seeks to support the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities through increased global awareness of disability issues and community-level development programmes.
“We have launched One Billion Strong as a global initiative to promote the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to try and make a real difference to the lives of persons with disability,” said Hassan Ali bin Ali, chairman of the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs.
A call to action
At the end of the forum, participants adopted a declaration recognizing that persons with disability are an overlooked population in emergency preparedness, response and recovery programmes. The declaration expressed a commitment to make inclusive humanitarian action a priority.
Signatories of the Shafallah Declaration on Crisis, Conflict and Disability also committed to promoting the active participation of people with disabilities and assisting the organizations catering to them in planning, implementation and decision-making processes.
Focus was also placed on raising awareness of issues confronting people with disabilities and on improving data collection about their needs.