By Cecilia Oluwafisayo Aransiola
It is estimated that no fewer than 25 million people are living with disabilities in Nigeria. This includesmillions of children who daily face discrimination and in some cases abuse due to their disability. Earlierin the year, there was the case of 7-year old Imran Kanun Muhammad which was widely reported in themedia. As a child with a disability, Imran allegedly suffered sexual violence and inhuman treatment at theSchool for the Deaf, Kuje, FCT. He was withdrawn from the school by his parents and the case is currentlythe subject of a criminal action. However, as a result, for several months Imran had no access to anyeducation as most government schools did not have the capacity to accommodate him, some wereunwilling. This is despite the fact that all children have the right to an education in Nigeria which thegovernment is legally bound to implement. While his peers were in school, Imran was at home. EventuallyImran was able to attend another school. However, his mother pays N50,000 from her income everymonth for special education teachers to tutor him. Sadly, such a case is not an isolated incident. Somemonths ago, there were allegations of rape of female students in the School for the Blind, Utako, Abuja.This led to the suspension of two teachers by the Federal Capital Territory Administration. In another case,the dilapidated state of the Kwara State School for Special Needs in Ilorin was recently uncovered by theGovernor and he made commitments to improve the conditions in the school. Incidences such as thesegive credence to the fact that children with disabilities continue to face discrimination, neglect and inmany cases abuse and violence which not only amounts to criminality but also violates their fundamentalrights including their right to education.
Children with disabilities continue to face multiple barriers, despite the Sustainable Development Goal 4to ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, includingpersons with disabilities, which Nigeria has signed up to achieve. These barriers include: lack of access tomainstream schools, the high cost of education designed to meet their particular needs, physicalinaccessibility, negative attitudes and stereotypes. Often, these barriers will intersect with a cumulativeimpact on the child. More broadly, entrenched inequalities persist within the educational system thatimpact on children with disabilities: inadequate teaching materials and assistive devices, violence inschools, lack of an inclusive curriculum, poor welfare of students, untrained teachers and deficientteaching methodology. Sadly, these inequalities do not end in schools; people with disabilities also facediscrimination in seeking employment.
In Nigeria, the educational model mostly practised is segregation, where children with disabilities areeducated at special schools. Segregation can often reinforce discrimination against children withdisabilities, excludes them from socialisation in a diverse society and makes them vulnerable to a rangeof human rights abuses. In line with its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons withDisabilities, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Convention on the Rights ofthe Child, inclusive education should be the goal of the Nigerian government. Inclusive education providesan avenue for mainstream schools to accommodate all children, regardless of disability with sufficient andappropriate assistance and support. Children with or without disabilities can learn, play and interact atthe same level and in a diverse environment. At the same time children without disabilities can appreciatethe need to treat their peers living with disabilities with dignity and understanding. Although thegovernment has some margin of appreciation as to how it implements inclusive education, it must ensurereasonable accommodation for the individual needs of the child, provide suitable curriculum andappropriate training for teachers and staff who work with children.
Every child has the right to education, a right which is essential for the exercise of all other human rights.Both national and international laws guarantee the right to education for all without discrimination. Therecently passed Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act provides that a personwith disability shall have an unfettered right to education without discrimination or segregation in anyform. It further stipulates that all public educational establishments shall be run to be inclusive of andaccessible to persons with disabilities. In 2015, Nigeria adopted the National Policy on Special NeedsEducation. Additionally, the Child Rights Act outlines that every child has the right to free, compulsory andbasiceducation and it shall be the duty of the Government in Nigeria to provide such education.Yetclearly Nigeria is breaching its own laws as well as its international commitments.
Internationally, Nigeria has made a significant commitment to the right to education for children withdisabilities by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.All these international instruments place an obligation on Nigeria to ensure that children with disabilitiesenjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate thechild’s active participation in the community. Despite these national and international laws and standards, many children with disabilities remain excluded from the educational system. For some of those withinthe educational system, they continue to face various forms of violence and disability-based discrimination.
As we commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Nigerian government mustensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are better respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled.
While the enactment of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act is a move inthe right direction, all state governments must expeditiously domesticate the Act. At the same time thegovernment must ensure the effective enforcement and implementation of the Act across the country. Quality and inclusive education for children with disabilities is a human right and not a mere charitableact. In the words of John F. Kennedy, our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress ineducation. The human mind is our fundamental resource. No child must be left behind!
Cecilia Oluwafisayo Aransiola is an Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Researcher of the Amnesty International Nigeria