Including children with disabilities not only benefit them but enriches everyone in the society
By Zafrin Chowdhury
YANGON, Myanmar 14 JUNE 2013 – UNICEF’s global flagship report State of the World’s Children 2013 on children with disabilities was launched in Aung San Stadium today amidst joyous participation of a hundred children along with distinguished speakers and advocates calling for equitable rights and opportunities for children with disabilities.
The report gives a voice to children to encourage their position as architects and agents of change in their towns, villages and cities, and to engage a dialogue leading toward equal treatment of all children, regardless of ability.
The two part event opened with a sports competition organized by Myanmar Special Olympics and enthusiastically participated by 60 children, including those with disabilities; 27 winners received medals in 9 categories and all participating child received gifts with a UNICEF school back pack and stationery, T shirt and a cap.
The outdoor sports event was followed by the national launch of the report in the Aung San Indoor Stadium. Thae Su Aung, 11 and Sai Wam Kham, 13 launched the report’s Myanmar version by opening ribbons. They also shared their experiences of living with disabilities.
“I would like to be a doctor when I grow up and help others who suffer from illnesses. But unfortunately I am not able to go to school. I feel sorry for children like me who cannot go to school much as we would like to,” said Thae Su Aung.
“Many of our friends do not understand us or how it is like to live with disabilities, we are treated differently. But living with disability has taught me how to be caring and helpful to others,” said Sai Wam Kham.
In his comments as the Chief Guest, H.E. Dr. Ba Shwe, Deputy Union Minister, Ministry of Education remarked, “Schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic and other conditions. The aims of inclusive education are to develop the whole society and to get quality basic education to ALL children – especially those left out or excluded from school.”
“Children with disabilities are not problems, but abandonment, neglect and discrimination in response are the problems. We need to gather accurate data and evidence to understand the situation of children with disability in Myanmar to guide inclusive policies and practices. And put a halt to human-made causes of disability and distress, such as conflict,” said Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative in Myanmar, “Including children with disabilities not only benefit them but enriches everyone in a society.” Mr. Bainvel presented the highlights of the report and proposed some opportunities for action for Myanmar.
H.E. Ms. Bronte Moules, the Ambassador of Australia in Myanmar, who spoke as Guest of Honour said,“Improving the lives of people with disability is an issue which the Australian aid programme takes particularly seriously. Disability inclusion is central to the design of the Myanmar Education Consortium; Australia has committed $15 million to this consortium. Australia is also a member of a multi-donor education partnership with UNICEF – the Quality Basic Education Programme - that aims to improve education for children with disabilities, in particular through policy dialogue with the Government of Myanmar and through improved teacher training.”
Calling the State of the World’s Children 2013 report a milestone for children’s development, U Aung Tun Khaing, Deputy Director General of Department of Social Welfare (DSW) said, “Myanmar is an active member state of the UNCRC. The soon to be adopted Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Policy will have an early childhood intervention as an intervention. This will help with detection and response to children with disabilities at an early age.”
In the side events, photo stories on six children living with different forms of disabilities. The children in the photo stories were present at the event. The launch ended with an inspiring Myanmar rendition of the song “we are the world, we are the children” by band Than Zin Pan, composed by children with disabilities.
Sharing examples of highly successful persons who grew up with disabilities, U Tin Nyo, Commissioner, Myanmar Human Rights Commission and an ardent advocate for children with disabilities said, “These role models are living proof that given the right support and environment, children with disabilities can excel in many different fields.”
U Myo Myint, Chairman, Special Olympics Myanmar said, “Special Olympics enables children with disabilities participate in sports activities not only in Myanmar, but regionally and internationally. We have taken our children to Singapore, Malaysia, China, Morocco, Cambodia, Greece, Malaysia, this year we will visit Philippines and Australia. Our experience has shown, participating in sports activities not only means greater inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities into the society, but positively impact their development and lifestyle.”
President, Shwe Minn Tha Foundation U Myat Thu Winn called for better implementation of policies that can truly improve the lives of children with disabilities, “Meeting the rights of the children with disabilities is not the work of a single ministry – it needs multi-sectoral and concerted efforts by all stakeholders in the government, non-government and international community.”
Aung San Stadium is named after Bogyoke Aung San, Myanmar’s leader of Independence. His daughter, leader Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of National Democratic League of Myanmar is an ardent advocate for children with disabilities. She pledged her support as a global leader to fight discrimination against children with intellectual disabilities at the Special Olympics in Korea earlier this year.
The launch of the report provides an excellent occasion for UNICEF and partners in Myanmar to join the global advocacy and amplify messages on achieving equitable and inclusive societies for children with disabilities – in all spheres of their lives – health, education, and protection. UNICEF’s partners for the national launch are Department of Social Welfare, Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. Myanmar Special Olympics and Shwe Minn Tha Foundation and the media partners are The Myanmar Times and Sky Net.
The Myanmar national launch of the State of the World’s Children 2013 report sends a strong message, children with disabilities have hopes and rights, and deserve a fair chance to make them come real.