A partnership to advance the rights of children with intellectual disabilities was announced today by UNICEF and Special Olympics International, on the occasion of the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China.
Working together, the two organizations will advocate for health care, education, recreational sports and employment policies that will benefit children with intellectual disabilities.
The partnership was launched during a one-day Global Policy Summit entitled "Commitment to Changing Lives: the Global Policy Summit on the Well-being of People with Intellectual Disabilities," which was attended by senior representatives from the world of sports, politics, business, academia and development. The Summit was co-hosted by Special Olympics, the 2007 Olympics World Summer Games, and the China Disabled Persons’ Federation.
"Special Olympics helps those with disabilities to develop their full potential," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, who is in Shanghai for the opening of the Special Olympics and to attend the policy Summit. "This new partnership will help make the point that children with disabilities have the same rights as all other children. They are entitled to adequate health care and quality education, and to live in an environment that protects them from abuse, exploitation and disease."
"Special Olympics and UNICEF have a rich history of advocating on behalf of and improving the lives of underserved populations," said Dr. Timothy P. Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics International. "This collaborative effort is in keeping with the goals of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to counter stigma and promote inclusion for children with intellectual disabilities in developing countries around the globe. We are thrilled to partner with UNICEF to empower children with intellectual disabilities and their families and to increase public awareness about critical issues facing this population in the developing world."
The partnership will raise public awareness of the abilities and rights of children with intellectual disabilities and aims to change perceptions and challenge negative attitudes. It will promote the participation and empowerment of children with intellectual disabilities and their families in their societies, including through sports, and will seek to build their self-reliance, confidence and advocacy skills.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in December 2006, has increased the status and visibility of disability as a human rights issue. Building on this momentum, the UNICEF-Special Olympics partnership will also encourage national action to ratify and implement the Disability Convention.
The UNICEF-Special Olympics partnership will initially focus on Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama and Uzbekistan, and will be expanded to more countries in 2008. In some of these countries, the two organizations will enhance joint activities that are already promoting the inclusion of children and young people with intellectual disabilities, in addition to increasing youth activation and early intervention efforts.
The discrimination experienced by many children with disabilities means that they are less likely to have access to health care or education than other children. It may also undermine their self-esteem and their interaction with others, and make them more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, so far signed by more than 110 countries and ratified by five, is the first treaty focusing exclusively on disability rights to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The Convention offers a framework to ensure that children with disabilities have equal access to, and are included in, schools, health services and community life. It provides UNICEF and Special Olympics with a powerful platform to mobilize policy makers, practitioners, families and communities around an agenda for inclusion.