HRW says children with disabilities in Syria at increased risk of harm

The NGO Human Right Watch said Thursday that children with disabilities caught up in the war in Syria are at increased risk of harm and lack access to the medical care, education or humanitarian aid needed to protect their basic rights.

For this reason, the organization has urged the United Nations and the Syrian government in a 71-page report to “urgently” ensure protection and assistance to meet the needs of children with disabilities in the country.

“One of the world’s deadliest conflicts, now entering its twelfth year, continues to have a devastating impact on children with disabilities,” HRW disability rights researcher Emina Cerimovic has argued.

“The UN, Syrian authorities and other governments must facilitate humanitarian access and ensure that support is available that meets the needs of children with disabilities and protects their rights,” said Cerimovic.

To learn more about the problem, the NGO has interviewed 34 children and young adults with disabilities and family members, as well as 20 humanitarian workers who are in the area.

According to the UN, approximately 28 percent of Syrians have a disability, nearly double the global average, including due to injuries during the war and lack of access to care and services. These people, including children, often have difficulty fleeing attacks, especially due to lack of access to assistive devices or effective and inclusive advance warnings.

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“Many times I would refuse to leave the house (during an attack) and try to escape, as it was too difficult for me to run with crutches,” Thara J., 18, who lost a leg in an airstrike when she was 13 and has had no way to obtain a prosthetic leg, has told HRW.

“It would take several people to help me get into the car,” she has expressed, showing concern that her inability to flee would endanger her family.

The conflict has contributed to Syria’s economic crisis, affecting the ability of Syrians, especially children with disabilities and their families, to realize their basic rights and needs, including to food and shelter, according to the NGO.

Conflict-related poverty, along with the destruction of physical infrastructure and support systems, has affected families of children with disabilities in need of medical care, therapies, assistive devices and social services.

“When the war started, everything changed – I lost my job and my house,” said Ahmed, whose 11-year-old daughter has a hearing disability. “(Now) I can’t even afford to buy her hearing aids,” he added.

Children with disabilities face greater barriers in accessing education due to inaccessible public schools and lack of adequate training for teachers to teach children with disabilities and inclusive curricula, and stigma.

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For this reason, HRW has urged “careful” UN monitoring for reporting on the abuses and exclusion experienced by children with disabilities, including from “an intersectional approach that takes into account all facets of the abuses they face.”

It has also urged all parties to the conflict in Syria to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access for UN agencies and humanitarian organizations to provide impartial assistance to civilians in need throughout Syria, including children with disabilities.

“Most of the children included in this report were born just before or when the war began in 2011 and have not known a time without conflict, displacement or difficulties in obtaining the services they need to grow and thrive,” said Cerimovic.

“Many Syrian children with disabilities and their families rely on UN agencies and humanitarian organizations, as well as the authorities in Syria, to provide them with the support they need to protect their rights, including access to assistive devices, inclusive education and mental health services,” she added.

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