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Last update: Jan 2012

World Fit For Children Goal
Ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including equal access to health, education and recreational services, by children with disabilities and children with special needs, ensure the recognition of their dignity, promote their self-reliance, and facilitate their active participation in the community

The challenge

Discrimination may increase vulnerability to abuse and neglect

One of the main recent priorities for UNICEF has been to improve protection of children from violence, abuse, exploitation and discrimination. Children with disabilities are particularly prone to discrimination from the very individuals and institutions with an obligation to protect them, including families, health and education services, and the State.


This discrimination often leads to reduced access to basic social services, especially education, as well as a lack of recognition of their equal humanity by their families, peers and communities. They are also especially vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and neglect, due to the same misperceptions that result in other forms of discrimination, and due to their increased vulnerability because of their specific physical or intellectual difference.


To allow children with disabilities to claim their rights, the discrimination that stands in their way must be addressed. This approach is very much in line with the ‘social model’ of disability. This model recognizes that disability is not caused simply by a medical condition, but also by the social restrictions that result from discrimination.


The emphasis on addressing discrimination and promoting full development and inclusion positions disability as an issue of concern to all sectors – and one that can be addressed through a range of methods, including information and advocacy, strengthening policy and facilitating access to services. Children with disabilities should not be treated separately. Attention to their needs should be incorporated into ongoing programmes. Only in some cases will it be necessary to work towards providing specific services to meet their needs. This includes early detection and intervention in health, and specialized education for children with intellectual or sensory disabilities. Efforts to address discrimination against children with disabilities will also have the positive effect of preventing the development of discriminatory attitudes towards those with disabilities in subsequent generations.

UN Convention on Disability

Disability is defined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2007) as including persons “who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

Defining disability

In trying to identify the disability problem, the UNICEF approach relies on the framework of the World Health Organization (WHO) described in the 2001 International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). “As a classification, ICF systematically groups different domains for a person in a given health condition (e.g., what a person with a disease or disorder does do or can do). Functioning is an umbrella term encompassing all body functions, activities and participation; similarly, disability serves as an umbrella term for impairment, activity limitations or participation restrictions.” In this framework, a child’s functioning in a specific domain is an interaction or complex relationship between his/her health condition and the contextual factors surrounding his/her life (environmental and personal factors).


The Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) measurement of disability falls within one of the main components of the ICF part of function and disability: activity limitations and participation restrictions, which are identified with an implicit assumption of performance and capacity as qualifiers. MICS also collects data related to the contextual factors of the ICF framework, particularly on the personal factors representing the background of an individual’s life and living (age, gender, ethnic, education, household wealth, nutrition, health, etc.). The idea here is to use the collected data to explore associations between existing impairments in children’s activities and participation in life situations, and their contextual factors.



UNICEF has supported the implementation of four rounds of MICS (1995–1997, 1999–2001, 2005–2007 and 2009–2011). During the second round of MICS, UNICEF included an optional module on child disability, which was adopted by 22 of the 65 countries conducting the survey. Twenty-six out of the 50 countries that participated in MICS3 in 2005–2007 included the disability module. A few countries are currently collecting the child disability module in the fourth round of MICS (MICS4).



WHO (2001), International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps, WHO, Geneva, p. 3.