Considering how communities, society and the government treat South Africa’s children with disabilities, how they are marginalised and denied even their most fundamental rights, let us reflect on the following extract from the Integrated National Disability Strategy, 1997:
“Among the yardsticks by which to measure a society’s respect for human rights, to evaluate the level of its maturity and its generosity of spirit, is by looking at the status that it accords to those members of society who are most vulnerable, disabled people, the senior citizens and its children”
(There is no group in the world more vulnerable than children with disabilities).
It pains me to derive from the above quote that the South African society ranks very low when it comes to its respect for human rights with specific reference to the rights of persons and children with disabilities. We can also deduce that our society is not very mature and has a less than generous spirit. These unfavourable characteristics are a severe indictment against the people of South Africa and the government as elected by the citizens of the country. Since South Africa is a constitutional democracy and the citizens choose the government, one is compelled to view the actions and inactions, omissions and transgressions, as the representative will of the majority of people and that it carries the approval of the majority of citizens. The people of South Africa must account for the deprivations, disrespect and disregard South Africa’s children with disabilities suffer.
Is it fair to conclude from the above that South Africa is indeed a very disablist society?
Isn’t it sad and ironic that our country and its people that have achieved so much to build a politically free and democratic society with a world-class constitution, is severely lacking in its values and morals? Does our country lack the moral fibre to honour the human rights of persons with disabilities and the most fundamental child rights of disabled children? Should we as a nation confess that we do in fact not possess a very generous spirit?
Seemingly, the people of South Africa have not reached the level of maturity, collective care and social conscience characterised by a broad sense of concern for the realisation of rights and the well-being of children with disabilities and disabled people in general.
The tragic lack of respect and concern for the most vulnerable challenges us to do more to transform people’s perceptions and attitudes towards children and persons with disabilities. The country’s humanitarian institutions, rights bodies, citizens with a social conscience, disability organisations, parents of disabled children and persons with disabilities are challenged to combat disablism (disability discrimination), prejudices and negative stereotypes that prevail in the land.
We will need to awaken as the people of the country to take collective responsibility for the dismal state of our society’s most vulnerable and join hands to combat the deprivations and flagrant human rights abuses so prevalent in our communities.
The status quo of societal neglect and disregard for children with disabilities and their severe exclusion and marginalisation calls for urgent and dramatic action. The power is in the hands of the people and the time is long overdue for collective corrective action affording disabled children their rightful place in a society where persons with disabilities are celebrated as part of a diverse society.