It is estimated that no fewer than 25 million people are living with disabilities in Nigeria. This includes millions of children who daily face discrimination and in some cases abuse due to their disability. Earlier in the year, there was the case of seven-year old Imran Kanun Muhammad which was widely reported in the media. As a child with a disability, Imran allegedly suffered sexual violence and inhuman treatment at the School for the Deaf, Kuje, FCT. He was withdrawn from the school by his parents and the case is currently the subject of a criminal action. However, as a result, for several months Imran had no access to any education as most government schools did not have the capacity to accommodate him, some were unwilling. This is despite the fact that all children have the right to an education in Nigeria which the government is legally bound to implement. While his peers were in school, Imran was at home. Eventually Imran was able to attend another school. However, his mother pays N50,000 naira from her income every month for special education teachers to tutor him. Sadly, such a case is not an isolated incident. Some months ago, there were allegations of rape of female students in the School for the Blind, Utako, Abuja. This led to the suspension of two teachers by the Federal Capital Territory Administration. In another case, the dilapidated state of the Kwara State School for Special Needs in Ilorin was recently uncovered by the governor and he made commitments to improve the conditions in the school. Incidences such as these give credence to the fact that children with disabilities continue to face discrimination, neglect and in many cases abuse and violence which not only amounts to criminality but also violates their fundamental rights including their right to education.
Children with disabilities continue to face multiple barriers, despite the Sustainable Development Goal 4 to ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, which Nigeria has signed up to achieve. These barriers include lack of access to mainstream schools, the high cost of education designed to meet their particular needs, physical inaccessibility, negative attitudes and stereotypes. Often, these barriers will intersect with a cumulative impact on the child. More broadly, entrenched inequalities persist within the educational system that impact on children with disabilities: inadequate teaching materials and assistive devices, violence in schools, lack of an inclusive curriculum, poor welfare of students, untrained teachers and deficient teaching methodology. Sadly, these inequalities do not end in schools; people with disabilities also face discrimination in seeking employment.
In Nigeria, the educational model mostly practised is segregation, where children with disabilities are educated at special schools. Segregation can often reinforce discrimination against children with disabilities, excludes them from socialisation in a diverse society and makes them vulnerable to a range of human rights abuses. In line with its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, inclusive education should be the goal of the Nigerian government. Inclusive education provides an avenue for mainstream schools to accommodate all children, regardless of disability with sufficient and appropriate assistance and support. Children with or without disabilities can learn, play and interact at the same level and in a diverse environment. At the same time children without disabilities can appreciate the need to treat their peers living with disabilities with dignity and understanding. Although the government has some margin of appreciation as to how it implements inclusive education, it must ensure reasonable accommodation for the individual needs of the child, provide suitable curriculum and appropriate training for teachers and staff who work with children.
Every child has the right to education, a right which is essential for the exercise of all other human rights. Both national and international laws guarantee the right to education for all without discrimination. The recently passed Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 provides that a person with disability shall have an unfettered right to education without discrimination or segregation in any form. It further stipulates that all public educational establishments shall be run to be inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities. In 2015, Nigeria adopted the National Policy on Special Needs Education. Additionally, the Child Rights Act outlines that every child has the right to free, compulsory and basic education and it shall be the duty of the Government in Nigeria to provide such education. Yet clearly Nigeria is breaching its own laws as well as its international commitments.
Internationally, Nigeria has made a significant commitment to the right to education for children with disabilities by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. All these international instruments place an obligation on Nigeria to ensure that children with disabilities enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community. Despite these national and international laws and standards, many children with disabilities remain excluded from the educational system. For some of those within the educational system, they continue to face various forms of violence and disability-based discrimination.
As we commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Nigerian Government must ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are better respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled. While the enactment of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act is a move in the right direction, all state governments must expeditiously domesticate the Act. At the same time the government must ensure the effective enforcement and implementation of the Act across the country. Quality and inclusive education for children with disabilities is a human right and not a mere charitable act. In the words of John F. Kennedy, our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource. No child must be left behind!