The number of children with disabilities globally is estimated at almost 240 million, according to a new UNICEF report.
The report also found that children with disabilities are disadvantaged compared to children without disabilities on most measures of child well-being, said a press release.
Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore said: "This new research confirms what we already knew - children with disabilities face multiple and often compounding challenges in realising their rights."
"From access to education, to being read to at home; children with disabilities are less likely to be included or heard on almost every measure. All too often, children with disabilities are simply being left behind," she added.
The report includes internationally comparable data from 42 countries and covers more than 60 indicators of child well-being – from nutrition and health, to access to water and sanitation, protection from violence and exploitation, and education. These indicators are disaggregated by functional difficulty type and severity, child's sex, economic status, and country.
The report makes clear the barriers children with disabilities face to participating fully in their societies and how this often translates to negative health and social outcomes.
Compared with children without disabilities, children with disabilities are:
- 24% less likely to receive early stimulation and responsive care;
- 42% less likely to have foundational reading and numeracy skills;
- 25% more likely to be wasted and 34% more likely to be stunted;
- 53% more likely to have symptoms of acute respiratory infection;
- 49% more likely to have never attended school;
- 47% more likely to be out of primary school, 33% more likely to be out of lower-secondary school and 27% more likely to be out of upper secondary school;
- 51% more likely to feel unhappy;
- 41% more likely to feel discriminated against;
- 32% more likely to experience severe corporal punishment.
However, the disability experience varies greatly. The analysis demonstrates that there is a spectrum of risks and outcomes depending on the type of disability, where the child lives, and what services they can access. This highlights the importance of designing targeted solutions to address inequities, the press release added.
Access to education is one of several subjects examined in the report. Despite widespread agreement on the importance of education, children with disabilities are still falling behind. The report finds children with difficulty communicating and caring for themselves are the most likely to be out of school, regardless of education level. Out-of-school rates are higher among children with multiple disabilities and disparities become even more significant when the severity of the disability is taken into account.
"Inclusive education cannot be considered a luxury. For far too long, children with disabilities have been excluded from society in a way that no child ever should be. My lived experience as a woman with disabilities supports that statement," said Maria Alexandrova, 20, a UNICEF youth advocate for inclusive education from Bulgaria.
"No child, especially the most vulnerable, should have to fight for their basic human rights alone. We need governments, stakeholders, and NGOs to ensure children with disabilities have equal, inclusive access to education," she added.
UNICEF works with partners at global and local levels to help realize the rights of children with disabilities. All children, including those with disabilities, must have a say in the issues that affect their lives, and be provided with the opportunity to realise their potential and claim their rights.
The UN agency has called on governments to provide children with disabilities with equal opportunities and consult persons with disabilities and consider the full range of disabilities, as well as the specific needs of children and their families, when providing inclusive services and equitable quality education.
The analysis seeks to increase the inclusion of 1 in 10 children and young people with disabilities worldwide by ensuring they are counted, consulted, and considered in decision-making.
The new global estimate for the number of children with disabilities is higher than previous estimates and is based on a more meaningful and inclusive understanding of disabilities, which considers difficulties across several domains of functioning, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression.
"Exclusion is often the consequence of invisibility," said Fore.
"We have not had reliable data on the number of children with disabilities for the longest time. When we fail to count, consider and consult with these children, we are failing to help them reach their vast potential," she further added.