Children with disabilities
According to UNICEF, 240 million children worldwide have a disability, which amounts to one in ten of all children globally.
Children with disabilities are a diverse population group. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires governments and organisations to take measures and provide the means for children with disabilities to contribute to the development and implementation of policies and programmes that will affect them. ‘States Parties shall ensure that children with disabilities have the right to express their views freely on all matters affecting them, their views being given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity, on an equal basis with other children, and to be provided with disability and age-appropriate assistance to realize that right.’ (Article 7 CRPD, Children with disabilities).
Girls and boys with disabilities experience higher levels of exclusion and discrimination compared to children without disabilities. They are more likely to be stigmatized or face barriers in their communities, leading to increased exposure to abuse and neglect, reduced access to services, and a general lack of recognition. There are many misconceptions regarding the capability of children with (and without) disabilities to participate in any decision-making processes. These misconceptions assume that they lack the capacities to be consulted and provide meaningful inputs. There is a lack of awareness about the evolving capacities of children and the necessity (and opportunity) to adapt consultations and other participation formats to make them age-appropriate.
Participation of children with disabilities in all projects affecting them is crucial. It is not only their right, but an opportunity to enable their opinions to be heard, to be valued and to build their confidence. It also gives children a chance to challenge their exclusion and rights violations and be a part of the process of creating an environment and culture of respect. When planning consultations with children, including those with disabilities, some important aspects to consider are as follows:
- When deciding on which children should participate, consider the range of children with disabilities including gender, age, type of impairment, and whether enrolled in school. OPDs, schools and community leaders may be able to support in identifying these children.
- It is important to get informed consent from the child before the consultation. If the child isn’t yet legally competent to sign a form, they still can and should be involved in making the decision. Before giving consent, the child needs to understand
- what participation would entail,
- what the potential risks and/or benefits of participating are; and
- the option of withdrawing at any time.
- Make sure that the child is participating voluntarily and is not forced in any way. Consent can be obtained using child-friendly tools, e.g. using short forms with little to no text, a clear structure and images representing the concept/information about the question being asked.
- Depending on the national legal system, consent from the guardian or the caregiver may be required. It may be useful to ask a family member/ caregiver to accompany the child to the consultation.
- Ensure that accessibility and reasonable accommodations are taken into account and provided to allow equal participation.
- During the consultation, avoid being patronising towards children with disabilities and make sure other participants treat these children with respect as well.
- Before starting your consultation, make sure that all children feel safe and know the (physical) space, the other participants and have, if necessary, family members, caregivers, or other persons of their confidence close by.
- Work with facilitators with experience working with the age group(s) of your young participants.
- Use ways of communicating that are engaging and imaginative. E.g. when communicating with younger children, you can also use toys, musical instruments, a colour code or other tools to help children express their consent or dissent and further views throughout the consultation.
- Encourage the participation of all children, taking into account their diversity and difference in temperament. E.g., you may consider inviting children to talk in turns and thus give those who are too shy to raise their hand the opportunity to express their opinion as well (without forcing them to talk).
- Discuss issues using practical examples the children can relate to. Avoid being abstract.
- UNICEF (2021): Seen, Counted, Included. Using data to shed light on the well- being of children with disabilities.
- Victorian Local Governance Association VLGA (2013): Engaging children in decision making. A guide for consulting children.
- UNICEF (2017): Guiding: Including children with disabilities in humanitarian action.
- Plan International (2016): Guidelines for Consulting with Children and Young People with Disabilities.