UN experts: Protection measures needed to support children with disabilities in armed conflict

OHCHR

Persons with disabilities, particularly children, are too often left behind in situations of armed conflict and experience serious risks and challenges to flee, protect themselves and access necessities, UN experts* warned today, urging States to take protective measures and ensure inclusion and access to assistance. Ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, the experts issued the following statement:

“The proliferation of armed conflict across the world continues unabated, with protracted conflicts greatly expanding the impact and scope of harm on civilians and children in particular. People with disabilities are highly vulnerable when conflict erupts due to persistent discrimination, and children with disabilities endure the most serious risks and challenges before, during and after armed conflict.

Inability to flee the fighting, risk of abandonment, lack of access to basic services, such as food, water, shelter, and assistive devices, but also to education and health care and exposure to stigma, discrimination, gender-based violence, psychological harm and poverty are unfortunately common realities for all persons with disabilities in all conflict settings, especially children. The breakdown of services and infrastructure is especially harmful for them, and they often remain invisible when assistance is planned and delivered. Moreover, outdated and discriminatory practices such as institutionalisation mean children may be abandoned in institutions where risks of human rights abuses are already higher and will have to fend for themselves when caregivers flee the violence. In addition, grave violations against children can lead to long-term impacts and result in different forms of impairment, posing additional challenges to children’s recovery and reintegration.

The intersection of gender and disability also creates additional risks for girls with disabilities, as they often face sexual violence, trafficking and enslavement during armed conflict, and are disproportionally excluded from education services. Lack of sustainable psychosocial support and access to mental health services have a deleterious impact on the mental wellbeing of all children who have experienced conflict. This is doubly so for children with disabilities who may have their existing impairment exacerbated or may have acquired a secondary impairment.

In these circumstances and in light of commitments laid out in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the reaffirmation of a requirement to have inclusive protection frameworks during armed conflict set forth by UN Security Council Resolutions 2225, 2475, and 2601, we recommend that States adopt measures to protect persons with disabilities, including children specifically, in order to prevent violations and abuses against them in situations of armed conflict.

We call on States to allow and facilitate safe, timely and unimpeded humanitarian access to persons with disabilities in need of assistance, including children. It is vital to provide timely, sustainable, appropriate, inclusive and accessible assistance in terms of health care, rehabilitation services, early intervention programmes, education, assistive devices, and mental health and psychosocial support on an equal basis with others. In this way, specific reintegration needs can be effectively addressed.

Persons with disabilities must be meaningfully included in humanitarian action as well as in conflict prevention, reconciliation, resolution, reconstruction, and peacebuilding. They are an asset in helping to rebuild societies torn apart by conflict. We stress the importance of quality and timely data and information to understand how armed conflict affects persons with disabilities, including children. To that end, data collected on violations and abuses against civilians in armed conflict should be disaggregated by disability, gender and age.

Finally, we urge States to undertake measures to end impunity for crimes against civilians, including persons with disabilities, and ensure their access to justice, effective remedies, and, as appropriate, reparation.”

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