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Opinions of Saturday, 24 February 2018

Columnist: Kwaku Badu

The forgotten citizens of the world

Regrettably, in Ghana, if one becomes disabled during his/her later life, the usual belief among society is either the individual might have been cursed for committing a sin, or the refusal of the family to observe taboos.

In the past, and even in many communities in Ghana today, if a child is born with a deformity, it is deemed to be as a result of evil spirits, a failure of the family to keep taboos, or some type of witchcraft. In some instances infanticide is performed or the child is ostracised in perpetuity.

The child may also be abandoned at an orphanage or sent to beg on the streets (the usual abode for Ghana's disabled population).

The World Health Organization's report estimates that over a billion people live with some form of disability globally, and, between 110 million (2.2%) and 190 million (3.8%) people of 15 years and older have significant difficulties in functioning.

The report notes that in the years ahead, disability will be an even greater concern because its prevalence is on the rise, and, this is due to ageing populations and the higher risk of disability in older people as well as the global increase in chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health disorders (WHO, 2011).

According to United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), disability is increasingly understood as a human rights issue. Besides, disability is an important development issue with an increasing body of evidence showing that persons with disabilities experience worse socioeconomic outcomes and poverty than persons without disabilities (World Report on Disability, 2011).

Given the circumstances, it is manifestly indefensible for society to knowingly ignore disabled people, notwithstanding the fact that one does not become disabled volitionally.

Even though Article 29 (4) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana stresses that disabled persons shall be protected against all exploitations, all regulations, all discriminations, abusive or degrading nature, the framework has been ineffective.

Besides, Kufuor’s government pragmatically enacted the Disability Discrimination Act in 2006, albeit its full implementation is yet to be seen.

But despite the ostensible desperate attempts by policy makers to include disabled people in the nation building, disabled people have crudely remained marginalised to date, and not being somehow accepted as integral and productive members of society.

Unfortunately, when disabled people are shown, the focus is mainly on their impairments. In actual fact, society obtusely views disabled people as “potential problem”, or to put it euphemistically, outcasts.

Suffice it to stress that the estimated 10% of Ghana’s population (disabled population) ironically face total alienation. “No country can afford to turn its back on 10% of its population” (UNESCO/UNICEF, 1997).

It is absolutely true that disabled people in Ghana have been facing exclusions from the nation building. Suffice it to state that Ghana’s Constitution states: “The recognition that the most secure democracy is the one that assures the basic necessities of life for its people as a fundamental duty”.

The Constitution states: “Steps will be taken to ensure the protection and promotion of all other basic human rights and freedoms, including the rights of the disabled, the aged, children and other vulnerable groups in development processes”.

Given all the assurances, the successive governments have failed woefully to provide meaningful help and support to disabled people in Ghana.

Apparently, the discrimination of disabled people is a global phenomenon which starts from the early development. Take, for example, a UNESCO report finds that about ninety % of children with disabilities of school going age in developing countries do not have access (UNESCO 2001).

More worryingly, UNESCO notes that the global literacy rate for adults with disabilities is as low as 3 % and 1 % for women with disabilities. And according to Global Campaign for Education, in Malawi and Tanzania, a child with a disability is twice as likely not to attend school as a child without a disability.

The report enumerates further that in Burkina Faso, for instance, having a disability increases the risk of children being out of school by two and a half times. While in Bolivia, it is estimated that while 95% of the population aged 6 to 11 years are in school, only 38% of children with disabilities are – more than doubling their chances of not being in school. In Ethiopia, less than 3% of children with disabilities have access to primary education, and access to schooling reduces rapidly as children move up the education ladder. In Nepal, 85% of all children out of school are disabled.

In Malawi a study showed that more girls with disabilities have never attended school compared to boys with disabilities. And the national statistics in Ghana show that the literacy rate for non-disabled adults stands at 70%, which reduces to 56% for adults living with disabilities, and this drops to just 47% for women with disabilities (Source: GCE,2014).

Unsurprisingly, therefore, people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. Interestingly, global data show that employment rates are lower for disabled men (53%) and disabled women (20%) than for non-disabled men (65%) and non-disabled women (30%). In OECD countries, the employment rate of people with disabilities stands at 44%, and people without disabilities rate stands at 75% (WHO 2017).

In the United Kingdom for instance, the non-disabled people of working age in employment is estimated to be around 79.9%, and the overall disabled people of working age in employment is around 47% (The Office for National Statistics).

Corollary, the World Bank report estimated that persons with disabilities may account for as many as one in five of the world’s poorest people. Besides, a 2005 World Bank study also sketchily found that disability is associated with long-run poverty, in the sense that children with disabilities are less likely to acquire the required employable skills and qualifications that will allow them to earn higher incomes (World Bank 2005).

Interestingly, however, a World Bank paper notes that equipping disabled people with employable skills and qualifications reduces welfare costs and future dependence, and, invariably minimizes caring responsibilities of other family members and thereby allowing them to increase employment or other productive activities (World Bank 2005).

Undoubtedly, most disabled people have subtle mind or individual consciousness and can equally contribute to the nation building with meaningful help and support. So, going forward, the government of Ghana must adhere to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, in particular, Article 19, by taking the necessary steps with a clear aim of integrating disabled people into the community and thereby facilitating their seamless participation in the nation building.

‘We are the world, we are the people, so let us all join hands and heal the world together!’