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Children still grow up separated from their families in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Turning Exceptions into the Rule - Inclusion for Young People with Disabilities in Uzbekistan
Making sure children and young people living with disabilities can benefit fr om the same rights and opportunities as their peers requires a change in the perception of disability itself. Recognising every child’s abilities, and the need for tolerance and diversity in society, will ensure children living with disabilities are no longer subject to stereotypes and social limitations, or vulnerable to violence and abuse.
High rates of institutionalisation, negative social attitudes and other factors make children living with disabilities 3.6 times more likely to suffer physical violence, and 2.9 times more likely to suffer sexual violence. Children living with disabilities in Uzbekistan are also likely to be kept at home and excluded fr om society, limiting their development and prospects for successful adulthoods.
To help limit the vulnerability of children living with disabilities, and to support their inclusion in society, UNICEF Uzbekistan has made changing negative social attitudes and expectations a topic of the Tashkent roundtable held on November 20 – Universal Children’s Day.
“We need to have children with disabilities counted, we need to have them participating actively, and we need to have all their rights protected in society,” said UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Robert Fuderich at the roundtable. “No longer can we assist children out of charity – we must assist and empower them because they have the right.”
In attendance at the event were not only Parliamentarians and representatives from NGOs and Civil Society Organisations, but also children and young people living with disabilities. One participant who overcame social stereotypes to be highly successful, and is now working to change the attitudes of others towards young people living with disabilities, was Abdulla Abdukhalilov.
With his family’s support, Abdulla overcame a significant sight impairment and lim iting social expectations to become a Political Science Lecturer at the National University of Uzbekistan. It is a supportive social attitude and inclusive education and services, he said, that give people living with disabilities a chance to succeed.
“My philosophy of inclusiveness is life without lim itations,” Abdulla said. “It has been mentioned that all new infrastructure being created in the country meets the criteria of accessibility for persons living with disabilities. I would like to stress that it is important to include persons with disabilities as members of the committees that will assess this infrastructure.”
It was highlighted during the event that building universally-accessible infrastructure is significantly more cost-effective than retrofitting existing buildings, a point that greatly interested representatives of the Ministries of Public Education and Health.
One participant who has benefited from changing attitudes and better opportunities is Tillya Karimov. Like other youth living with disabilities he spent his childhood in a state institution, separated from society and vulnerable to abuse, but he has avoided a lifetime of institutionalisation by enrolling himself in the ‘Unlimited Possibilities’ centre. Building the social skills lost during his childhood has taken time and effort, but Tillya is optimistic about his future.
“Children with disabilities should not be invisible,” Tillya said. “They can be a part of society, have jobs and live valuable lives.”
While Tillya and Abdulla’s stories are encouraging, they are still exceptions to the rule. A shift in the social perception of the abilities and needs of people living with disabilities, especially a move away from institutionalisation, is essential to ensuring others can enjoy the same positive experiences.
“We hope to change the perception that children should be in institutions,” UNICEF Representative Robert Fuderich said. “Rather, they should be in a community and family environment that is so necessary for their development.”
During the roundtable, representatives from UNICEF partners including the National Centre for Social Adaptation of Children, the Parliament of the Republic of Uzbekistan and relevant ministries expressed their commitment to ensure the better social inclusion of children living with disabilities.
Uzbekistan has signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but is yet to ratify it. During the roundtable Deputy Khokim (Mayor) of Tashkent City and Chairperson of the Women’s Committee Farida Abdurakhimova indicated that the Convention will be ratified once the infrastructure needed for inclusive education and the greater involvement of people living with disabilities in society is established.