Burma

Two-Thirds of Disabled Children Not Enrolled in Formal Education

By Tin Htet Paing 28 September 2016

RANGOON — A joint report published by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has stated that Burma’s national education law needs to be amended, as two-thirds of the country’s 232,000 disabled children do not obtain a formal education.

A 122-page report by Unicef and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement was launched in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, shedding a spotlight on the lives of disabled persons under age 18 in five major areas—education, health, living environment, social life, and rights and aspirations.

“Sixty-seven percent of children with disabilities are out of the formal education system and do not attend school,” the report said. “This represents an exponentially higher percentage of children out of school than among children without disabilities, 11 per cent of whom do not attend school,” it added.

The report recommended that Burma’s National Education Law be amended to ensure that children with disabilities are welcomed in mainstream schools and their individual needs are met. Teachers and education professionals need to be properly trained in this regard.

Daw Yu Yu Swe, an official in the ministry’s Social Welfare Department, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the report is “official evidence” which speaks for the country’s disabled children and how much needs to be done for them by parliament and government institutions.

“Most people in society are aware of the situation of the disabled community,” she said, “we just didn’t have any documents and data to prove this with evidence.”

She added that the ministry started distributing hard copies of the report to relevant ministries, including health and education, and parliament on Wednesday.  Daw Yu Yu Swe said she hopes that the report can help policymakers and lawmakers realize the importance of “inclusive” and “accessible” systems.

The report detailed how most mainstream schools in the country do not have facilities for students with disabilities, and that in 2015, there were 46 incidents of schools refusing to admit disabled children. It also said that 93 percent of two- to four-year-olds with disabilities have no exposure to school readiness programs.

Three-quarters of education professionals believe that children with disabilities should attend “special schools,” the report claimed.

Ko Aung Ko Myint, the chairperson of the Myanmar National Association of the Blind (MNAB), told The Irrawaddy that there are undeniable structural barriers and a negative attitude in the country’s education system toward those with disabilities.

“The actual number of disabled children who don’t receive formal education could be more than the findings by UNICEF,” he said, highlighting that there could be many disabled children who were not counted in its survey.

One of the report’s key findings was that although Burma introduced the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Law last year, “the definition of disability used in it is not explicit or widely understood.”

U Win Myat Aye, Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, said that quantitative and qualitative data related to children with disabilities is still “scarce, incomplete and its quality questionable,” even though numerous government institutions regularly produce statistics on children and women.

“All children with disabilities have the right to achieve their full potential and enjoy the opportunities open to other children,” he added.

The report’s research took place in 2015 after the nationwide population census. Its key objective was to increase knowledge and awareness among policymakers and key stakeholders about the situation and the rights of children with disabilities in a country where members of the disabled population “rarely have their voices heard in society and face daily discrimination as objects of pity,” the report stated.

The report said it hoped to inform “disability-inclusive legislative and policy reviews” that would ensure the fulfillment of the rights of children with disabilities in the country.

According to Burma’s 2014 census, 4.6 percent of the country’s population suffers at least one type of disability. People with visual impairments account for 2.5 percent, people with walking difficulties for 1.9 percent, intellectual impairments for 1.7 percent and hearing impairments for 1.3 percent.

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