DOHA, Qatar, 24 January 2012 – Children with disabilities must not be forgotten during crises and conflict, UNICEF said at an international conference.
The experience of children with disabilities in general is often one of marginalization and disempowerment. In times of crisis, children with disabilities and their families become even more vulnerable. Their needs are often overlooked and they face higher risks of becoming victims of injuries, abuse and neglect.
“In times of crisis, it is our responsibility to work in partnership so that children and adults living with disabilities feel that they are involved in the process of building an inclusive response to help prevent injuries and to assist the survivors,” said Rima Salah, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director (a.i.), in her keynote speech on the second day of the conference.
A UNICEF delegation, led by Dr. Salah took part in the Fifth International Shafallah Forum on Crisis, Conflict and Disability, organized under the patronage and with the support of Sheika Moza bint Nasser, in Doha, Qatar, from 22-24 January, 2012.
This historic high-level meeting brought together over 250 participants from over 50 countries to discuss the challenges and opportunities for strengthening inclusive approaches to humanitarian action. Attendees included a number of First Ladies, Secretaries of State, Ministers, and international experts on disabilities and humanitarian action.
The total number of children with disabilities in the world is unknown because of a lack of reliable and comparable data.
“Whatever the real global number of children with disabilities is, we are talking about the lives of individual children and their families,” said Dr. Salah. “We cannot remain indifferent.”
UNICEF participated in a series of panel discussions and breakout sessions on issues ranging from women and children in crisis situations to inclusive planning in relief and recovery work, highlighting the rights and needs of children and women with disabilities. UNICEF highlighted throughout the conference key areas of urgent action:
Ensuring that humanitarian action is a priority;
Ensuring that support for people with disabilities should not only begin or end in an emergency, but should be applied before a crisis hits and continue afterwards through inclusive programmes;
All efforts should be made to protect the rights of all children in emergencies, including through the promotion of frameworks such as Security Council Resolutions on Children and Armed conflict, and Treaties that ban or regulate the use of weapons and small arms.
Shafallah Chairman Hassan Ali Bin Ali launched a new global initiative “One Billion Strong” to promote disability awareness, rights and education. “Disability must be an integral part of all emergency and humanitarian response,” he said. “The principles in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should underpin all humanitarian efforts and there is urgent need for disability to be seen as a cross-cutting issue in all phases of humanitarian assistance.”
The meeting concluded with the Shafallah Declaration on Crisis, Conflict and Disabilities that includes a series of commitments to make inclusive humanitarian action a priority.
“Children and adults with disabilities must have a voice. They don’t need special treatment, but equal opportunity and access to resources,” said Dr. Salah.
UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF’s work visit: www.unicef.org
For further information, please contact:
Charbel Raji, UNICEF regional office for the Middle East and North Africa,