‘More bridges to cross’ to ensure welfare of children with disabilities

Published December 5, 2020, 3:34 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

While the passage of a “Inclusive Education” Bill on second reading is a “welcome development,” child rights advocates reminded the government—especially concerned agencies such as the Department of Education (DepEd)—that there is a long way to go before fully addressing the needs of children with disabilities (CWDs).

(AFP Photo)

Child Rights Network (CRN), the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines, commended the House of Representatives (HOR) for passing in second reading the “Inclusive Education” Bill or House Bill 8080 early this week.

However, CRN noted that passing HB 8080 will only “address one of several gaps that need to be urgently addressed” to protect and nurture CWDs. The group also cited that there “more should be done,” especially as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic makes life more difficult for the CWDs.

Citing a policy brief released by UNICEF Philippines in 2018 entitled, “Children with disabilities: Finding the way to an inclusive service framework,” CRN said that there are “several key barriers” that keep CWDs from exercising their rights fully. UNICEF Philippines is also a member of the CRN.

CRN noted that, based on the said study, among the challenges are the “lack of consistent and common understanding of disability” in the Philippines and having “no common understanding and acceptance of the categorization of disabilities.”

Additionally, the policy brief stated that there is also “no consolidated comprehensive action plan for children with disabilities, with programs and services currently subsumed under the broader program for persons with disabilities.”

Even if the Philippines is frequented by typhoons every year, the study noted that inclusive programs for children with disabilities “are not part of disaster risk reduction” and that there is “no clear plan for inclusive education and how this will be implemented in the country.”

As pointed out in the study, CRN noted that CWDs are “rarely targeted in national social protection programs despite the strong correlation between disability and poverty in childhood,” and that the personal beliefs, misconceptions, and attitudes of parents and caregivers toward disability “limit the family’s health-seeking behavior and access to social services.”

Among the biggest challenges for CWDs, CRN further noted, is the “lack of services for children with disabilities” at the local level as well as the “limited number of development pediatricians” with the expertise to help them.

In particular, CRN noted that the HB 8080 institutes a wide range of services for learners with disabilities (LWDs) in support of inclusive education and establishing inclusive learning resource centers in all school districts in the country.

However, while HB 8080 addresses concerns in inclusive education as raised by UNICEF, the road to ensuring that “no child is truly left behind” in exercising the rights of CWDs remains long.