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The obstacles to a good education faced by millions of children in South Asia are daunting enough. For the 10% of the region’s young people who are estimated to have some kind of disability, the barriers are compounded. The UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia has looked at examples in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka of how such children are given schooling, and whether this is the type of education they have the right to expect. The result is a very mixed bag indeed. Overall it is clear that large numbers of children who struggle daily with additional hardships are not getting the chance to improve their lives through education. This means, of course, they are caught in a spiral of low expectation, low esteem and low income. The minority of children with disability that do get places are often not sitting in the same classroom as other boys and girls because of a sense that they need to be separated and treated differently. Globally it is estimated that 70% of children with disabilities, including those with mild mental retardation, can attend regular schools provided the environment is designed to be accessible and the institution is willing to accommodate them. UNICEF believes that the goal should be to enable all children to have full participation in the development of their community. Meeting this goal of inclusion requires all structures and community-based services to be accessible to all members of the community without discrimination. By producing a snapshot on the activities happening in five South Asian countries UNICEF Regional Office hopes to fill in an information gap on children with disabilities while examining misconceptions, prejudices and discriminatory practices. The documents on each of the five countries examine initiatives being undertaken by governments, NGOs, INGOs, and UN agencies. Crucially they highlight good practices that have proved effective in addressing concerns and constraints. It is hoped these documents will be a starting point for policies and practices that get many more children with disabilities into school. As we all work to fulfill the Millennium Development Goal of ‘Education for All’ I would urge that the exclusion of the challenged child be specifically addressed with initiatives aimed at ending prejudice and isolation. UNICEF ROSA will work with experts to pull together the ideas captured in the five documents with the hope that this process will facilitate momentum toward the full inclusion of every child in all that their community has to offer.
Dr Sadig Rasheed UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia