The Continued and Stubborn Denial of the Right of Children with Disabilities to a Basic Education

A group of disabled children of school going age languishing in a poorly resourced care centre

The time for taking drastic steps to afford 500 000 South African children with disabilities their constitutional right to a basic education is long overdue and is the motivation for the following letter that I sent to the SA Human Rights Commission today. The letter was addressed to several Commissioners of the SAHRC and was sent as an official communication by my employer, the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD).

According to both the Human Rights Watch and the Department of Basic Education approximately 500 000 children with disabilities of school-going age are out-of-school and as such being denied their constitutional right to a basic education.

Despite laudable legislation and policies for children with disabilities to receive an inclusive education on an equal basis with all other children, the stark reality is evidence that our country, our government and relevant institutions are dismally failing in implementing legislative and policy provisions.

While we recognise the complexities of this issue, we cannot accept them as an excuse for the continued and stubborn violation of the rights of children with disabilities. Our observations are that there is extreme tardiness with the implementation of Special Education White Paper 6, that there is a lack of commitment at especially provincial,  district and school levels to provide for the educational inclusion of children with disabilities and that insufficient resources are being deployed to get children with disabilities into schools and to offer them the required support and adaptations to the learning environment they are entitled to. It is as if the gravity of the crime of denying our children their right to formal and equal education is not grasped by key government role players at all levels.

This disgraceful scenario clearly demands vigorous intervention by the SAHRC which should include litigation against the Minister of Basic Education and the provincial MECs for basic education.

This Council is ready to support any decisive action for the realisation of the immediately realisable right of children with disabilities to a basic education while emphasising that no child should be excluded on the basis of the nature or severity of their disability. No child is excluded from the ability to develop and learn.

We are anxiously waiting for your reply to this submission which we hope will contain a clear and fearless exposition of actions the SAHRC is and will be embarking on to execute its duty to ensure this unalienable right of children with disabilities to a basic education is upheld.

Best regards”

This blog will be updated with the reply from the SAHRC.

Disabled children of school-going age languishing in a care centre in a disadvantaged community run by an ill-equipped and poorly resourced community-based organisation. This is a typical scenario at care centres throughout South Africa. In most of these centres, only basic care is provided with very limited or no implementation of educational/stimulation/developmental programmes. Many of these centres receive a nominal subsidy from the Department of Social Development, but there is almost no evidence of any involvement by the Department of Basic Education which is of relevance considering these children are supposed to receive a quality formal education, equal to what their non-disabled peers receive.


Disablism: The Root Cause of the Deprivation of Children with Disabilities

In my previous post I wrote about children with disabilities being the most exposed and vulnerable group in the world. I talked about the widespread violation of even their most basic rights, their marginalisation and exclusion from mainstream society and opportunities.

The natural question that flows from the dire circumstances of children with disabilities and the often insurmountable barriers they have to face, is why. Why are disabled children relegated to a status of inferiority because of inequality and having to live on the periphary of society, prevented from exercising their rights and excluded from opportunities and services essential for healthy living, nurturing and development?

Admittedly, multiple factors play a role in this status quo, but their is a root cause, a primary reason for the state of the world’s disabled children.


This root cause is disablism (also called ablism and ableism) in society. Disablism is prejudice and discrimination against persons with disabilities.


Disablism is pervasive in society and there is ample empirical evidence to support this assertion. Strangely enough, however, the word disablism and its synonyms are not commonly used and relatively unknown compared to other words depicting discrimination, like racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia and xenophobia.

I have asked myself why this word, which should be a key term in disability terminology and integral to the disability discourse, is so seldom used and relatively unknown.
Why is the term disablism not part of the common vocabulary in society, like racism and sexism? Why is the word swept under the carpet while disability discrimination is a root cause of all the issues we address and concern ourselves with in respect of persons and children with disabilities, such as inaccessibility, exclusion, marginalisation, disability rights violations, the lack of reasonable accommodation, unemployment, lack of educational opportunities and various other inequalities? In fact, disablism is at the heart of the existence of disability organisations, government structures, national policies and internatiuonal treaties to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

But we don’t say the word. We don’t tackle disablism head-on, soft soaping disability discrimination (disablism) by focusing on its symptoms, like inaccessibility and exclusion. We quite correctly promote disability rights, but neglect to confront society with its disablist attitudes and behaviours.

So why is the word disablism not on the tongues of people like the words racism and sexism are? Can it be that society is in denial? I mean: “No, discriminating against poor disabled people? Never!”

Should we not give more prominence to and acknowledge the reality of disablism in public education, advocacy and disability training? Should we not have anti-disablism media campaigns, courses and the like?

Disablism. Say the word! Call it by its name! Speak out about it so people can reflect on disablist attitudes and behaviours that might be present within them. 

I am convinced that if we can achieve significantly less disablism in society, a better life for children with disabilities will automatically follow.




Children with Disabilities are the World’s most Exposed and Vulnerable Group

Children with disabilities are the world’s most exposed and vulnerable group, as declared by the United Nations.

The implications of this tragic reality are far reaching and identify children with disabilities to be more entitled to and deserving of dramatic developmental intervention and equity measures than any other group.

Their heightened vulnerability is also attributed to the fact that they are poor. (Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of disability). This double jeopardy of being disabled and also poor means that they are victims of compounded marginalisation.

Worldwide disabled children are excluded from even the most basic opportunities and freedoms; opportunities and freedoms other children take for granted. They are denied their most basic rights, live on the fringes of society, are stigmatised and discriminated against while they are significantly more at risk than children without disabilities to abuse (including rape and sexual molestation), neglect and exploitation.

The criminal violation of the rights of children with disabilities relegate them to a sub-human status, which should be intolerable to society and provoke social action on a mass scale to compel lethargic governments to protect and promote these children’s rights as prescribed by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  How is it possible that our collective conscience as humanity is so numb that we are mere passive spectators of the inhuman treatment of children with disabilities? Children who are denied their right to an education and as such depriving them of any future prospects and hope; children who are denied essential assistive devices, like wheelchairs, depriving them of any semblance of movement, mobility, functionality, independence and freedom; children who are denied quality health care, rehabilitative and therapeutic services and

Children with Disabilities are the world’s most exposed and vulnerable group. – The United Nations 


children who are denied access to justice as victims of abuse, because they are deemed “unreliable witnesses”.

And how can we stand by and watch how they are basically expelled from life and mainstream society because of numerous barriers (structural and attitudinal), preventing access and inclusion for not only children with disabilities, but persons with disabilities in general?

We need action, strong action and action without delay. Millions of lives are at stake.