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Are these children of a lesser God?

Pakistan is a country of 180 million people. According to WHO, the number of disabled children and adults in Pakistan is estimated to be 10% of the total population. Out of this 10% of disabled children which makes up to 18 million, almost 5 million of the total disabled children are handicapped as per the 1998 census.

In the poverty stricken developing societies like Pakistan, where additional hands are always expected to become part of the family labor and supplement family income, presence of a disable child is considered as a curse by many families in the society. The presence of a disabled person is thus not only considered a life-long dependency on family members but also taken as loss of potential productive individual from a society.

Out of total number of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), around 1.4 million children are of school going age who do not have access to special schools, due to limited capacity of students in special schools that prevail here and also because of transportation problems.  I understand the need of special schools for children with special needs but why are these children who are physically handicapped but mentally very much able, excluded from every aspect of our society?

There is no inclusion for handicapped children in any aspect of the society. There is no friendly infrastructure for physically disabled in any of the sectors; be it hospital, educational or any other sector. Even though there are many well-known international food chains in Pakistan, which have suitable infrastructure for disabled in other countries but I wonder why the very same food chains do not have suitable infrastructure here? I think the major reason is that there is no broad legislation for persons with disabilities in Pakistan.

Children who are disabled are more likely to be poor and remain poor throughout their life, due to lack of educational and job opportunities. If everyone of us have a right to get educated and make our lives better then what is their sin? Are these children of a lesser god? Don’t these children deserve to be independent and have a higher self-esteem? Why our society at large has a neglected mindset towards such children? “Becharay”, “Maa Baapki Aazmaish”, “In ka kya banayga” are the lines we often hear for such children. We do not even realize how their self-confidence is shattered just because they are left alone and treated as an inferior race.

These children deserve better. The only solution is to change the mindset of the society. How should we let these children participate in the society for their well-being? There are 3 target audiences who can act as catalysts and play a major role of inclusion of these children in everyday activities. Firstly, Government should make polices so that these children can be admitted in mainstream schools. They should also make sure that schools build a disabled friendly infrastructure and a slightly modified curriculum and examination formalities shall be established for them. There is also a need for training of teaching staff which would comparatively cost very less as it requires more of a mindset change and a higher acceptability.

Secondly, there is a need to change perception of Educational institutes like schools and colleges. If the government has proper laws and regulations, these institutes would also accept handicapped children and give them a chance of inclusion in the society by providing them a platform and a fair chance to reach their full potential just like other children. These educational institutes should believe in equality and mainstream schools should be made available for these children too.

Thirdly, Parents are not open minded enough to accept the fact that their children need to go to mainstream schools. They fear that their child might face rejection on basis of physical disability. There is a need to educated these parents and encourage them to send their children to school where they would get equal opportunities and gain experience to succeed in life.

There is no second thought that if these children were given a proper chance, they could achieve excellence. If we talk about Pakistan only, we have many examples of people who despite of the difficulties have achieved a lot and proved their brilliance. Imagine if the chance was given to other deprived children too? They can create havoc with their smartness and intelligence! I have two examples to share here. First is Sohail Rehman, a Pakistani origin guy living in Yorkshire England, who has recently been appointed as a coach to Manchester United. He becomes the first wheel chair bound coach to manage a professional club of able-bodied footballers.

The second example is Tanzila Khan. She introduces herself as “wheelchair wali bachi turned an author, then a trainer and the journey continues…”.Her projects include “I wish Knowledge” affiliated with Global Change-makers (British Council) and The Ramp Movement.She has also been affiliated with School of Leadership as a trainer, started a production company called ‘Creative Alley’ andwritten a young adult fiction called “The Perfect Situation”. She has also visited India on numerous trips sponsored by Government. Looking at these success stories, we can see how people like Sohail and Tanzila have helped in highlighting a positive image of Pakistan around the world despite having a physical disability.

Finally, we as individuals should encourage the society at large to accept these children with their multiple abilities. Instead of labeling them disabled just because of some mishap of the fate, we should look at them as differently-abled. These children are not burden on us and we should stop treating them like one. We should, in fact, encourage and motivate handicapped children to develop their self-esteem and confidence.

“A child is not disabled because they cannot walk, hear or see. They are disabled by a society that excludes them.” – Anonymous

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