A staggering amount of children live with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global average of children with disabilities is at 15%. However, in Tajikistan, only 0.8% of the child population lives with disabilities according to UNICEF. Although this may be a small number, UNICEF believes that this official statistic of children with disabilities in Tajikistan may be much lower than than the actual number of children.
One of the main reasons for the lowered report is that the process to have children screened is quite complicated and nonuniform across Tajikistan. Parents must have their children evaluated through the Pedagogical, Medical, Psychological Consultation and Medical, Pedagogical Commissions in order for their children to receive an official diagnosis of having a disability. Furthermore, children with disabilities frequently experience discrimination due to social stigmas and incorrect perceptions about disabilities in general. The children may not receive adequate education due to the lack of resources and training to facilitate children with disabilities. Their families may even abandon or institutionalize them due to poverty and social stigmas. Thus, local and international organizations such as UNICEF, Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities and Association to Aid Refugees Japan have come together to help support vulnerable children.
UNICEF Tajikistan has been working fervently to advocate for children’s rights in Tajikistan so they can live a life free of discrimination and social limitations. The organization supports the children and their families with the proper tools along with working with the government. In 2018, the government put the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into action. That year, it also worked with UNICEF to establish the National Disability Inclusion Campaign.
The campaign works to transform social perceptions and stigmas so that children with disabilities may enjoy rights equal to their counterparts who do not live with disabilities. UNICEF also works with civil society organizations such as the Association of Parents and Children with Disabilities and the National Association of Persons with Disabilities of Tajikistan. Furthermore, it also advocates for community-based rehabilitation so that persons with disabilities may use their skills to their maximum potential and experience full integration into society.
Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities
In Tajikistan, a network of parents has come together to support children with disabilities in Tajikistan by advocating for their rights and inclusion in society along with access to health care and education. The Association gained permission from its local government to build a center for support groups and provide resources for parents of children with disabilities. One of the special projects that the group took was to go around schools in Dushanbe to carry out the “Lessons of Kindness” in classes. These lessons allowed students to learn how to treat and engage with children with disabilities. They learned to value the lives of every individual with or without disabilities. Children with disabilities also lead these lessons, building more confidence and creativity in themselves.
Association to Aid Refugees Japan (AAR Japan)
With the funds received from the Japanese government, Association to Aid Refugees Japan (AAR Japan) works with the Ministry of Education and Science and the Dushanbe City Department of Education to advocate for inclusive education in Japan. AAR Japan works to transform school buildings and provide materials for children with disabilities. It has installed wheelchair ramps and handrails in order to create a disability-friendly building in several Dushanbe schools. Furthermore, it has provided educational materials, equipment and devices to further assist children with disabilities in the classrooms. Along with providing tangible equipment and materials, AAR Japan also holds seminars, training and activities to educate students, teachers and government officials on how to create an inclusive environment for children with disabilities.
The road to having a fully inclusive society for children with disabilities in Tajikistan may still be far ahead, but UNICEF, the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities and AAR Japan, among many, are working towards seeing that future realized. With the helping hands of these organizations, children are receiving the education and materials they need to succeed, and families are understanding what it means to reverse social stigmas and provide for the needs of their children.
– Hakyung Kim