African countries back rights of people with disabilities

African leaders have committed to improving the rights and lives of people with disabilities.

In a continent where 90% of children with disabilities are out of school, the first ever African Leaders Forum on Disability in Malawi agreed to bring disability issues to the forefront.

Forum host and Malawi President Joyce Banda said: “The business of disability is everyone's business.”

The Malawi conference – co-hosted by Special Olympics from February 9 to 11 – brought together senior officials from 11 African countries and numerous international organisations, including the World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO.

They ensured disability issues gained a place in the continent's post-2015 agenda with the creation of the African Leadership Alliance on Intellectual Disabilities. Governments also committed to increase resource allocation and data collection.

President Banda's remarks came as she opened the first session of the conference. Malawi has gradually become a champion for the rights of people living with disabilities since the beginning of President Banda’s mandate in 2012, when she passed a national disability act within her first two months of office.

People living with disabilities make up one of the most vulnerable groups in society and all too often suffer from a lack of rights and dignity that has seen them left out of even the most important global development concerns. The Millennium Development Goals, for example, make no mention of people living with disabilities.

Children living with disabilities are also the most excluded group from education. Although comprehensive data is lacking, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of the 57 million out-of-school children worldwide may suffer from a disability. In Africa, 90 per cent of children with disabilities are out of school.

President Banda went on to emphasise the multi-sectoral nature of disability issues that affect boarder development goals, including the goal to achieve universal primary education.

She said: “Before we can tackle the environment barriers that block our children from school … this stigma must become yesterday’s news”.

President Banda highlighted the pressing nature of the situation when she warned members of the forum that “we will be pouring valuable water into a bottomless bucket if we fail to address stigma in an aggressive, yet compassionate way”.

With the Forum and Alliance on Intellectual Disability, Africa has taken an important step in overcoming this challenge and securing the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Picture: Malawi President Joyce Banda/UN photo