Our children and their future

Children with disabilities are at a significant disadvantage according to a UNICEF report. Raven Benny discusses

With most of the school year completed and learners writing exams countrywide, I want to wish them and their loved ones well. This is a stressful time, but the rewards of their hard work will be sweet when the results are read.

When the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published a report that examines the broad range of issues that UNICEF seeks to address in its mission to improve the lives of children globally, I was interested.

According to the report, there are 240 million children with disabilities worldwide – which shocked me! The report continues to mention that these children are disadvantaged in most measurements used to determine the wellbeing of a child when compared to their peers without disabilities.

This got me thinking about the words of former South African president Nelson Mandela: “The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.” We know that he had a special place in his heart for children and often made mention of the importance of their education.

Staggering statistics are contained in the UNICEF report. It notes that children with disabilities are:

  • 49 percent more likely to have never attended school;
  • 47 percent more likely to be out of primary school;
  • 33 percent more likely to be out of lower- secondary school; and
  • 27 percent more likely to be out of upper secondary school.

Thus, nearly half of children with disabilities across the globe have very little education. This must be addressed! But how?

Mandela went on to say: “One of the ways that we can build a better future for our children is by empowering them through allowing them to speak up for themselves. Of course, we, as adults, have to guide them and to take the ultimate responsibility; but that is something quite different from patronising them. The rights of children must, importantly, include the right to be themselves and to talk for themselves.”

It won’t be easy. The onus rests on us, the adult population. It requires serious intervention by all stakeholders. Here, our government needs to take responsibility, especially the Department of Basic Education and Department of Social Development. A combined effort is needed. As we know, it takes a village to raise a child.

I foresee health interventions, like vaccination drives as the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority declared vaccines safe for children from age 12 to 17 years. Their safety and security is vital as the abuse of children increases. This scourge must be eradicated. Other plans to encourage our teachers and parents in exploring alternative methods of educating our children with the use of technology would be very useful.

There are so many focus areas to consider in our quest to secure a better future for our children. It will be of no use to simply shift blame. Every generation seems to blame the one before. We need to invest in this generation now; provide guidance and support to assist them in helping themselves; fixing a broken systems and leave a decent legacy for them to capitalise on.

Read the full report here.

Raven Benny has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married and has five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He relocated from Cape Town to Durban, where he was appointed the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of QASA from August 1, 2019. email: coo@qasa.co.za.

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