Involve children with disabilities in making decisions as they are not just beneficiaries, but agents of change, says the State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Panchayat and Social Justice Minister M.K. Muneer released the report here on Tuesday, which speaks about the importance of the inclusion of children with disabilities in nation building and why it is important to hear and heed their voices in policy-making and programmes.

The report, focussing on the marginalised community of disabled people, points out that given the opportunities to flourish as others might, children with disabilities have the potential to lead fulfilling lives and to contribute to the social, cultural and economic vitality of their communities.

The Minister said that every child should be respected irrespective of disabilities and provided the same opportunities and rights as the rest of the children.

“The infant deaths in Attappady have been a wake-up call for the government regarding the nutrition policy, and it has come with a comprehensive plan to address the problem. The government has planned to set up a special school in each panchayat. Going one step ahead, plans are on the anvil to start rehabilitation centres along with the school,” he said.

The report says that children with disabilities are often regarded as inferior, exposing them to increased vulnerability.

Speaking at the function, Satish Kumar, Chief of UNICEF State Office for Tamil Nadu and Kerala, said that discrimination on the grounds of disability was prevalent among the public, decision-makers and providers of essential services, which led to the invisibility of this group.

“The report, in fact, points out that survival for such groups of children is a great challenge as they have to face neglect and discrimination from society. There should an approach where the children are provided an inclusive and equitable environment to have an equally fulfilling life,” he said.

Speaking on the need to create awareness of the need to include children in all activities of society, N. Ahmed Pillai, Commissioner of State Commissionerate for Persons with Disabilities, said the country had a low infant mortality rate, but the number of disabled people was the rise. There was not sufficient awareness of high-risk pregnancy cases and preventive facilities. “Even when there were provisions for early detection of disabilities, the State lacks streamlined activities to provide proper support and treatment to such identified cases,” he said.

Leela Gangadharan, Chairperson of the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child’s Rights, said the State should focus on adopting more preventive measures in such cases.

“Focus on the working women community, who are now rarely supported by society. The nutrition policy should be given the main focus,” she said.