Dis­abil­ity, child poverty in Zim: Why it mat­ters

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion & Analysis - Tapi­wanashe Hoto Tapi­wanashe Hoto, So­cial Ser­vices Ad­vi­sor, UNICEF Zim­babwe

THE UN Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) recog­nises that chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties (CwDs) have the same rights as any other child, with dreams and de­sires to ful­fil. Zim­babwe is a State Party to the CRC and the UN Con­ven­tion on the Rights of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties (UNCRPD), pro­vid­ing a pow­er­ful im­pe­tus to en­sure no child is left be­hind. Yet, CwDs con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence multi-di­men­sional de­pri­va­tions in san­i­ta­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, nu­tri­tion, etc and suf­fer worse in­come poverty than any other vul­ner­a­ble group, and have to put up with dis­abil­ity ex­clu­sion bar­ri­ers in the form of ne­glect, stig­ma­ti­sa­tion driven by our so­cial norms and cul­ture.

Child poverty (multi-di­men­sional and mone­tary) is both a cause and a con­se­quence of dis­abil­ity. Correlates of child poverty such as in­ad­e­quate health care sig­nif­i­cantly con­trib­ute to the in­ci­dence and im­pact of child­hood dis­abil­ity. By the same in­dex, many risk fac­tors (e.g. mal­nu­tri­tion) trig­ger­ing on­set of child­hood im­pair­ments are es­sen­tially pre­ventable, thus prof­fer­ing the op­por­tu­nity to re­duce both dis­abil­ity and child poverty.

In­versely, dis­abil­ity can re­sult in child poverty where CwDs are de­prived of ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices set­ting them on a plat­form of limited op­por­tu­ni­ties for hu­man cap­i­tal for­ma­tion.

The pres­ence of a par­ent with a dis­abil­ity in the family in­creases the risk of child poverty even fur­ther. Ex­plicit tar­get­ing of dis­abil­ity and child poverty thus re­mains a pri­or­ity.

In the first ever World Re­port on Dis­abil­ity (2011), an es­ti­mated 15 per­cent (1 bil­lion per­sons) in the world ex­pe­ri­ence dis­abil­ity. The ma­jor­ity of these (around 80 per­cent) live in de­vel­op­ing na­tions, of­ten without the op­ti­mum sup­port that could im­prove their lives. Zim­babwe is no ex­cep­tion!

In a na­tional sur­vey, Liv­ing Con­di­tions among Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties (2013-14), dis­abil­ity preva­lence in Zim­babwe is es­ti­mated to be 7 per­cent, amount­ing to over 900 000 peo­ple based on the to­tal Zim­babwe pop­u­la­tion of around 13 mil­lion in 2012. A large pro­por­tion of in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­ity ac­quire their dis­abil­ity as chil­dren. Cu­mu­la­tively, circa 53,5 per­cent of the peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­ity pop­u­la­tion be­came dis­abled be­fore 20 years of age with around 27,1 per­cent and 9,3 per­cent ac­quir­ing dis­abil­ity from birth and be­tween the ages of 1-5 years cor­re­spond­ingly.

CwDs are of­ten af­fected to vary­ing de­grees de­pend­ing on fac­tors such as type of dis­abil­ity, where they live and gen­der. For in­stance, ru­ral chil­dren with dis­abil­ity in Zim­babwe are 1,9 times higher likely to re­port dis­abil­ity as the rea­son for not at­tend­ing school than their ur­ban coun­ter­parts. The sur­vey re­sults show that in Zim­babwe CwDs are worse off on a va­ri­ety of so­cial in­di­ca­tors with greater risk of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing less ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices. For ex­am­ple, around 52 per­cent of per­sons with dis­abil­ity re­ported not re­ceiv­ing the re­quired med­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Fam­i­lies of CwDs face spe­cific chal­lenges, which taken to­gether, in­crease their chil­dren’s ex­po­sure to the ef­fect of the bi-di­rec­tional re­la­tion­ship be­tween dis­abil­ity and child poverty. These chal­lenges in­clude: sub­stan­tial ex­tra and re­cur­ring costs of care for CwDs; bar­ri­ers to en­ter­ing and sus­tain­ing em­ploy­ment (the in­come penalty) re­sult­ing from in­abil­ity to work be­cause of care re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and; family dis­in­te­gra­tion; and over­all knowl­edge, at­ti­tudes and prac­tices by Zim­babwe so­ci­ety.

As Zim­bab­weans, we need to re­mind our­selves that a child is not dis­abled be­cause they can­not walk, hear, see or has al­binism; they are dis­abled by a so­ci­ety that ex­cludes them. It is im­por­tant for us all to fo­cus on a child’s abil­i­ties and po­ten­tial in­stead of what they can­not do! Con­cen­trat­ing on the abil­i­ties and po­ten­tial of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties would cre­ate ben­e­fits for so­ci­ety as a whole.

Avail­able data should be used to in­form de­sign of re­sponses that will: in­te­grate re­duc­tion of dis­abil­ity and child poverty through pro­vid­ing qual­ity and ac­ces­si­ble ser­vices for CwDs - par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas such as nu­tri­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and health; re­move fi­nan­cial bar­ri­ers that pre­vent CwDs from ac­cess­ing ser­vices and; re­duce pre­ventable child­hood dis­abil­ity through af­ford­able At Risk Sur­veil­lance Sys­tem that de­tect and fa­cil­i­tate re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of early child­hood dis­abil­ity symp­toms among poor peo­ple.

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