Like all children, those with disabilities have many abilities, but are often excluded from society by discrimination and lack of support, leaving them among the most invisible and vulnerable children in the world.
UNICEF launched its flagship report The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities on May 30, 2013. The report brings global attention to the urgent needs of a largely invisible population.
In northern Mongolia, a center supporting children with disabilities has proven a lifeline for 13-year-old Uyanga.
TSAGAANNUUR, Khuvsgul province, Mongolia (June 3, 2013) — Tumenjargal is a kindergarten teacher in northern Mongolia. She’s also a wife and mother of four. The family live in the small village of Tsagaannuur, about an hour from the Russian border.
Tumenjargal’s 13-year-old daughter Uyanga enjoys the same things as a lot of girls her age. “She really loves music and dancing,” Tumenjargal tells us. “She could watch television for hours, listening to music, especially traditional music, and watching how people dance.”
Two days after she was born, Uyanga was diagnosed with brain damage, which left her with permanent learning disabilities. Uyanga has difficulty speaking, and her vision is impaired. She learned to walk when she was 3 years old. Her parents tell us she can usually walk alone in a familiar environment. Otherwise, she is afraid.
In Uyanga’s village, there are few options for children with disabilities. Uyanga attended kindergarten from the age of 4 until she was 9. She then went to her brother’s school, but was soon faced with stigma and discrimination.
“When she was 9, she started attending school with her brother, but children made fun of her,” Tumenjargal tells us. “It was hard for her brother, too, so she stopped going. It was difficult. There were some challenges.”
Children with disabilities are less likely to receive an education. They’re also less likely to engage with peers or have an opportunity to participate in their community. They are often neglected and isolated.
Today, Uyanga attends a center that helps children with disabilities learn new skills in a supportive and inclusive environment. UNICEF supports this center, which has become a lifeline for Uyanga—who now enjoys learning and has made friends. UNICEF has also trained the teachers here to promote child participation and inclusive education. Thanks to this inclusive model, 40 children with disabilities are now enrolled in the center as well as in the main school.
“She doesn’t yet know how to write, but she is exercising how to hold her pen,” Tumenjargal explains to us. “Also, she practices how to pronounce sounds and consonants. After school, she comes home and she tries to practice in front of the mirror.”
Children with disabilities face many barriers; they encounter social exclusion, as do their families. Yet, in a supportive community, families can help foster a more inclusive and enriching environment.
“My message to parents of children with disabilities and people all over the world is this: Please help and try to understand children with disabilities,” Tumenjargal says.
UNICEF wants to raise awareness about the rights of all children. We want to support more centers for children like Uyanga so they can enjoy the same opportunities as others.