The discourse around resumption of education, in post-conflict regions, often operates within two assumptive polarities: the martyred child and the surviving refugee child. Within these two extremities lies hidden the disabled child, and hence, the programs of educational rehabilitation that emerge, often fail to cater to these children who require specific physical and psychological aid to ensure an uninhibited access to education. Graca Machel, the former Minister of Education of Mozambique, in a report presented to the UN General Assembly highlighted the gravity of the dilemma through the following statistical reality:
‘Millions of children are killed by armed conflict, but three times as many are seriously injured or permanently disabled by it’
The report further highlighted the structural, institutional and contextual hurdles that complicate these children’s access to education. The lack of infrastructural accommodation coupled with the threat levied on their lives, absence of medical aid, economic insecurity and a deep rooted fear of abandonment abets abuse and stigma within the societal and communal consciousness of the conflict stricken region.
Inaccessibility to education caused by unruly roads, pathways, security threats and impoverished schools, by disposition, causes immense difficulty for able bodied children in conflict zones however for disabled children this difficulty becomes an impossibility compromising the demographics’ survival probability. In Syria, it is estimated that nearly 28% of Syria’s population suffers from a disability and only 14% of the disabled children attend schools. In Afghanistan only 20% of disabled young girls are afforded formal education. The low numbers of attendance can be accounted for by a brief overview of the infrastructural frailty of the educational institutes of these regions: most schools do not offer ramps for accommodation, do not possess technological aid for the visually and/or aurally impaired and are devoid of architectural and service oriented instalments that may aid mobility for the differently abled students.
A damaged. dysfunctional wheelchair used by a young girl in northeast Syria.
Families and teaching faculties may deem these children liabilities in reference to emergency situations that may require immediate evacuation which complicates their access to education. This causes these children to develop abandonment fears and may cause long term impact on their mental health. This is exacerbated by the economic insecurity that conflict breeds as these children begin to deem themselves a burden owing to their accelerated medicinal needs.
The psychological trauma is what many programs fail to adequately address as the main objective remains resumption of formal education. Some initiatives may take this psychological aspect into account yet they also operate within the assumption of the grander conflict based trauma caused that is exclusive of individual traumas that these disabled students may be facing. Addressing the physical needs in many ways can mediate many psychological traumas that emerge from the feeling of absolute dependency that these kids may be facing. Numerous initiatives such as UNICEF’s mission in Cambodia that actively made education accessible to children, is one of the many examples of how this is not an unsolvable conundrum. Effort needs to be made but effort is a product of statistical acknowledgement of this ‘hidden’ demographic reality. Sending in special needs trained instructors along with the conventional humanitarian aid organizations, building disability friendly infrastructure and providing technological and instrumental assistance can be just a few limited ways of including this group of hopeful, aspiring students.
Assistance provided to disabled children under the UNICEF Cambodia inclusive education project:
"Ensuring Children with disability from remote communities access to education" [Khen Cambodia]