Disabilism: what it means for South African children

Nappy Run, NCPD, Johannesburg Zoo

Dignity is a basic human right and everyone should attempt to protect the right to dignity of themselves and others. However, according to the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD), protecting the dignity of South African children with disabilities is not very high on the national agenda.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children with disabilities are among the most marginalised groups of children, experiencing widespread violation of their rights.

In developing countries such as South Africa, where poverty and inequality are common, children with disabilities are especially vulnerable. Therina Wentzel, national director of NCPD, says that childhood disability is a neglected and serious national problem.

“The term ‘disabilism’ describes the discrimination and prejudice that persons with disabilities face. In South Africa, disabilism robs many children of their most basic rights. The term needs to be understood in the same manner as sexism and racism are,” she says.

“Just as there is a need for education, awareness and confrontation around racism, sexism and associated injustices, so we need to make people aware of disabilism and confront instances of it in society,” Wentzel adds.

“Too often, children with disabilities are defined and judged by what they lack rather than what they have,” according to a UNICEF statement. “Their exclusion and invisibility serve to render them uniquely vulnerable, denying them respect for their dignity, their individuality and even their right to life itself.”

Wentzel notes that NCPD is becoming increasingly concerned with the lack of provision made for children with disabilities in the South African childcare and protection system. She says: “A good example is the non-provisioning of assistive devices and nappies by the Department of Health. Assistive devices are part of primary healthcare and the Constitution obliges the government to provide them.

“However, when NCPD ran a nationwide poll, we found that all provinces reported a lack of provision of assistive devices by the government healthcare system, which resulted in hundreds of persons with disabilities having to do without these crucial devices,” she commented.

The lives of people with disabilities are greatly affected by this lack, as they become less mobile and independent. Wentzel gives an even simpler example by referring to the lack of nappies available to children with disabilities. She explains: “Toilet hygiene and health are a fundamental basis of human dignity that many people take for granted, but in South Africa, we know that countless children have to use unsafe pit toilets.

“While many people would agree that this is wrong, most don’t consider the lack of basic toilet hygiene for children with disabilities. Many children are unable to take care of their toilet needs independently and they require nappies on a permanent basis. Nappies are expensive and often children’s carers struggle to afford them.”

She notes that wet and soiled nappies negatively affect children’s dignity, but can also comprise their health. These children often live in extreme poverty and face social isolation. To address this need, the NCPD plans to raise funds for nappies through its annual Nappy Run initiative.

The event doubles as a donation drive, with participants donating nappies on the day of the 5-km fun run, walk or wheel. Entry fees are R100 per adult and R60 per child. The run will take place at Joburg Zoo on Saturday, November 3, coinciding with International Children’s Day. Registration opens at 06h30 and the race starts at 07h30. Tickets can be purchased from the Nappy Run website. Participants will receive a goodie bag on the day of the run.

Organised by the NCPD, the fun run event forms part of the wider annual Nappy Run campaign. At the 2017 event, more than 900 nappies were collected.

Wentzel concludes: “It’s time we had a frank conversation about disabilism and what we can do to dismantle it. We urgently need to address the rights violations of children with disabilities. As the late Nelson Mandela said: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ That includes all our children.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit www.nappyrun.org.za, or  visit Facebook and Instagram at @Nappyrun.sa and Twitter at @NappyRun.

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