UNICEF, Special Olympics launch project to aid children with intellectual disabilities
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Special Olympics International today launched a partnership to advance the rights of children with intellectual disabilities to mark the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, focusing on health care, education, recreational sports and employment policies.
“Special Olympics helps those with disabilities to develop their full potential,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in the Chinese port city. “This new partnership will help make the point that children with disabilities have the same rights as all other children. They are entitled to adequate health care and quality education, and to live in an environment that protects them from abuse, exploitation and disease.”
The partnership will raise public awareness of the abilities and rights of children with intellectual disabilities and aims to change perceptions and challenge negative attitudes. It will promote the participation and empowerment of such children and their families in their societies, including through sports, and will seek to build their self-reliance, confidence and advocacy skills.
In a message for the Special Olympics, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the important role that sports can play in the lives of persons with disabilities and in their communities.
“The next two weeks will witness the inspiring efforts of athletes from across the globe,” he said in the message delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang at a policy session. “May this moment also herald the beginning of a new era in which people with disabilities will have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”
The UNICEF-Special Olympics partnership will initially focus on Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama and Uzbekistan, and will be expanded to more countries in 2008. In some of these countries, the two organizations will enhance joint activities that already promote the inclusion of children and youth with intellectual disabilities, in addition to increasing youth activation and early intervention efforts.
The discrimination experienced by many such children means that they are less likely to have access to health care or education than other children. It may also undermine their self-esteem and their interaction with others, and make them more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation.
“This collaborative effort is in keeping with the goals of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to counter stigma and promote inclusion for children with intellectual disabilities in developing countries around the globe,” Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy P. Shriver said.
“We are thrilled to partner with UNICEF to empower children with intellectual disabilities and their families and to increase public awareness about critical issues facing this population in the developing world.”