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Children with Disabilities in India: From Commitment to Outcomes
JANUARY 12, 2015
A brief overview of our commitments under the UN convention, and how far our laws fulfil them
by Aparna Gupta
According to the Child Rights Information Network (CRIN), 150 million children worldwide have a disability. Shockingly, 90 per cent of them are denied the basic right to go to school. In 2002, the Indian Parliament passed the historic 86th Amendment of the Indian Constitution which made primary education a fundamental right. But 12 years after guaranteeing this right, 28 per cent of children with disabilities in the age group of 6-13 years are out of school. And this is just Government estimates[i]. The status of education for children with mental disabilities is even worse with 36 per cent of them being out of school.
These numbers are not mere statistics. Each represents a child, bogged down, not by her physical or mental condition, but by infrastructural bottlenecks, policy failures and apathy of governments around the world.
However, while the UN Convention categorically supports inclusive education for children with disabilities, the plethora of laws and policies governing the issue in India have developed a multi-option delivery system which includes integrated education, home based learning and special schools.
For instance, the Right to Education Act was amended in 2012 in order to correct the oversight in this crucial legislation which had left millions of children with disabilities out of its purview. While the amendment brought some salutary provisions such as explicitly mentioning that a child with disability has the right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school (Section 4(a)), it contentiously provided that a child with multiple disabilities or severe disability may also have the right to opt for home based education (Section 4(c)). A move, that Disability Rights Groups feel, worked towards legalising exclusion of children with severe and profound disabilities, instead of being a progressive step towards inclusion[ii]. Children with severe and multiple disabilities are already vulnerable because the community and society do not see the point of the child going to school. The support for families who insist on sending their child to school might now diminish further.
The fear is that this provision will lead to the state abdicating itself from its responsibility to include children with high support needs into the mainstream.
The existing level of inclusion in the institutes of learning reflects that these fears expressed by Disability Rights Groups are very real. According to a sample survey conducted by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People in 318 schools across the country, 0.5 per cent of the total student population consisted of disabled students. 20 per cent of the schools admitted that they do not admit students with disabilities, thus openly flouting the Right to Education Act[iv].
Therefore it is evident that existing policies have been unsuccessful in bringing inclusion in its true sense. It’s time that Indian law makers, the society and every individual, introspects on whether India can progress when 26 million of its citizens are rendered invisible due to the barriers created by us every day.
It’s time, that we shift from the ‘medical model’ to the ‘social model’ of disability and remove the attitudinal and environmental hurdles that have hindered the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in the society.
This article was originally published by Udaan Shimla as a part of their 'Policy Matters' campaign''. Kindly also link it to Udaan Shimla's blog.
[i] National Survey on Estimation of Out of School Children, 2014
[ii] Based on the personal interviews conducted by DNIS News Network with Poonam Natarajan, Chairperson, National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities; G. Syamala, Executive Director, Action for Ability Development and Inclusion and Klaus Lachwitz, President of Inclusion International
[iii] Interview with Poonam Natarajan, Chairperson, National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities, DNIS http://www.dnis.org/print_interview.php?interview_id=181
Aparna Gupta is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. An engineer by degree, and student of policy by day, Aparna aspires to work in the field of human rights.