Nepal’s Helen Kellers, Stephen Hawkings await their rights

August 24th, 2011 - 3:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 24 (IANS) More than three years after Nepal promulgated an interim constitution that pledged free education to all children with different abilities, the country’s young Helen Kellers and Stephen Hawkings are still fighting an uphill battle to get their fundamental rights.

Helen Keller was a deaf and blind person who went on to become an author and an activist while Stephen Hawking is a leading physicist who is suffering from a disease that has left him almost completely paralysed.

Though the lack of updated data, scanty resources and difficult geographical terrain make it impossible to assess the population of children with different abilities, the 2001 census indicates there are at least 207,000 such children.

While Nepal has ratified several international human rights treaties, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, implying children with disabilities should be able to attend school without discrimination, a report released Wednesday by a rights organisation said the government is failing to make the school environment accessible for such children.

“Many children with disabilities were turned away from schools entirely,” said the report by Human Rights Watch, titled “Futures Stolen: Barriers to education for children with disabilities in Nepal”.

“…As a result of the lack of educational options, lack of information about options and schools’ refusal to admit children with disabilities, some parents said they saw no choice but to lock their children with disabilities in a room or tie them to a post,” the report said.

The 76-page document recorded some heart-wrenching examples.

Amman, 16 and living with limited movement and speech, uses a tricycle to reach his school in farwestern Nepal. The cycle has to be pushed by his mother or other children who leave him at the school gate.

Since there is no ramp, the teen then crawls to class where he has to sit for six hours, unable to use the toilet because it is not disabled-friendly.

On the days he has to use the school toilet, his mother has to be fetched from home to help him.

It is even harder for girls, especially when they reach puberty, because there is no support system to help them, for example when they are menstruating. Also, the toilets are either inaccessible or unsafe.

Subama Chitrakar, who founded a vocational training programme for young women with intellectual disabilities, described her ordeal after her daughter, diagnosed with such difficulties, started having her periods.

“I would put the (sanitary) pad on her and she would take it out,” Chitrakar said. “She was also attracted to boys. I was scared that something could happen. Something sexual. She got no sexual education. Neither do we know how to teach them nor did the teachers in her school. I decided not to send her to school.”

Once a Hindu kingdom, Nepal regarded disabilities as caused by the wrath of the gods for having committed sins in the past life and the disabled are often stigmatised, ridiculed and even physically abused.

Parents too suffer with the children.

The mother of a child with autism told the rights group: “If such children don’t know what to do, how to speak, can’t the state just give them a lethal injection?”

While activists are asking the government to honour its responsibilities, Nepal this month has seen an inspirational incident.

A 31-year-old woman, Jhamak Ghimire, who was born with celebral palsy and can’t talk, sit or use her hands, taught herself how to read and write on her own, using her feet to trace out letters in the dust on the floor.

Ghimire, an author and columnist, received a prestigious literary award this month for her autobiography, “Kanda ko phool” (The thorn flower) and has been hailed by thousands as a true hero.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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