For too long, they have been invisible -- excluded, denied, abandoned, and discriminated against.
Too often, according to a new UNICEF report, they are at the very end of the line. They -- children with disabilities -- are the poorest and most marginalized people in the world, cut off from basic services and legal protections and left vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation.
As U.S. citizens, we have the power to help change this by encouraging our government to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This critical international human rights treaty would give people with disabilities across the globe the same of kind protections afforded to U.S. citizens by the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.
Signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, the Disabilities Act has been responsible for ensuring that Americans with disabilities receive fair opportunities for employment and improved accessibility to buildings, transportation, and community events.
Because of the Disabilities Act, the U.S. is in a unique position to provide leadership on this issue. So why haven't we? Why has the Senate refused to ratify the CRPD?
Some in Washington argue that the CRPD is superfluous. Americans already have a great law protecting the rights of people with disabilities. In other words, we don't need another one.
Here's what they forget: Those living in the United States may not need it, but millions of children and adults living with disabilities around the world desperately do. U.S. ratification of the CRPD would provide a huge dose of political will and momentum and -- most important -- would help ensure that all of us finally see that people with disabilities exist.
In many countries, there is woefully inadequate data on how many children live with disabilities and what kind of hardships they face. They are simply not counted. With more attention on the world stage will come better information -- evidence of their exclusion that will help us all demand resources to provide for the basic rights that should be accorded to all children. We can also benchmark and measure progress, hold each other accountable. We can see patterns, try to offer prevention strategies where possible, stop discrimination and teach acceptance.
What do we know about these children? We know that when you look at any barometer of child health and wellbeing, in any country, you will find the poorest children are least likely to be educated, nourished, protected and healthy. Look closer, and you'll find that children with disabilities shoulder a disproportionate burden of suffering. They are 3 to 4 times more likely to be victims of violence. They are at greater risk of malnutrition and often face difficulties accessing clean water and sanitation. And they are less likely to be in school. Much of the abuse and neglect faced by children with disabilities is hidden and, in some cases, considered socially acceptable.
Universal human rights can't exist unless these rights are enjoyed by everyone. People with disabilities are more than capable of overcoming barriers -- when given a chance. Our world will be a better place for all of us when every boy and girl can play, read, learn, and contribute to his or her societies.
The first step is ratifying the CRPD. It won't require any changes to American law -- it would simply recommit our country to the same principles we already support and would give us a platform to encourage and help other countries to improve their records on upholding the rights of people with disabilities. The United States has the ability, and therefore the obligation, to show leadership by explicitly denouncing all discrimination that robs children and adults of their basic rights.
Tell Your Senator that You Support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Follow Caryl M. Stern on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CarylStern