The right to education: Children with disabilities in The GambiaPosted: 2 October, 2014
Section 30 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia states, “All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right- (a) basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all; (b) secondary education, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education.”
It is without doubt that the Gambia has been working toward this constitutional provision and has registered a significant gain in the area of education. The enabling environment has been created to make this fundamental right realistic by acceding and ratifying enormous international conventions such as the African Charter on Human and People Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discriminations Against Women, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child to name just a few; and there are also domestic legal frameworks in addition to the Constitution such as the Children Act 2005 and Women Act 2010 all geared toward promoting right to education among others.
Notwithstanding of the government of The Gambia active role in promotion of children’s rights to education which is translated into the promulgation of the above named laws and building adequate schools in all the four corners of the country. There is yet a huge gap or disparity that needs to be addressed. Children with disabilities in The Gambia are confronted with challenges such as discrimination and marginalisation both in formal and informal institutions. It is therefore urgent to draw the attention of the government into the plight of these children as they equally have right to education as enshrined in the supreme law of the land and the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Despite the fact that The Gambia has ratified the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013 which specifically aimed at to ‘promote, protect and to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect of their inherent dignity’ (article 1). There is little or nothing that has been done in changing the plight of children with disabilities. When the Convention was finally ratified, activists thought that persons with disabilities predicament have finally ended, but it is my ardent opinion that the ratification of the above Convention however does not exonerate their situation in the country.
It is government fundamental and constitutional responsibility to promote and protect the rights and interest of children with disabilities in The Gambia. These obligations can also be found in plethora of laws both domestic and international such as section 31 (2) 1997 Constitution of The Gambia, section 18(1) Children’s Act 2005 and section 26(1) Women’s Act 2005; furthermore, article 7 Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, article 18 (3 & 4) African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, article 23 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, article 13 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child etc.
The failure of Gambian authorities in enforcing the above laws has culminated discrimination and marginalization against children with disabilities; and it continues rearing its ugly head in almost all public institutions promoting and protecting education. Thus, it constitutes a violation of right to education.
It is a fundamental responsibility of the government in ensuring that such children are provided with facilities and mechanisms for their personal development; and are protected from all form of unreasonable discrimination and marginalization. Section 31 of the Constitution reads, “Disabled persons shall be entitled to protection against exploitation and to protection against discrimination, in particular as regards access to health services, education and employment.” This Constitutional provision should not be taken for granted because it is part and parcel of the Bill of Rights.
Non-discrimination is a universal principle enshrined under the national Constitution (s 33) and other international legal instruments which have binding effect in the Gambia such as such CRPD article 3(b), CEDAW article 2, ICSCR article 2(2), ACHPR the preamble and specifically, article 18 (3) ) and CRC article 2 etc. Thus, it is apt to come with all forms of implementation mechanisms to eliminate discrimination and marginalization in the educational institutions in The Gambia in order to afford children with disabilities to have equal educational opportunities and facilities.
The right to inclusive education in The Gambia is elusive for children with disabilities. This is because children with disabilities continue to be denied enrolment in most public schools and some end of being untaught. It is Sad that in spite the hundreds of public schools built by the government, there is no special public school for persons with disabilities. Some of the special schools for person with disabilities in The Gambia are as a result of international donors and thus are privatized; and are only available in the urban area and leaving children with disabilities in the rural areas with difficulties to struggle for admission into public schools which is always a farfetched dream for them. The unfettered discrimination and marginalization from school authorities and of course colleague traumatisation affects their academic performance and also participation in social activities.
In conclusion, considering the situation of children with disabilities in The Gambia particularly in the area of education, it is very apt for the building of special public schools for them across the country. And in fulfilling its obligations, the government should protect and guarantee everyone the right to equal and sound educational opportunities and facilities, so as to make the rights to be fully realised regardless of personal status. This will herald a dawn of a new era in the lives of persons with disabilities particularly vulnerable children in The Gambia.
About the Author:
Sheriff Kumba Jobe (24) recently graduated from Faculty of Law at the University of The Gambia. He has a great passion for the promotion of human rights and democratisation in Africa. He is interested in doing the LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa degree and wish to work with institutions geared towards the implementation, promotion and protection of human rights.