Children and staff play at the Inclusive Education in Bihac.

Helping children with disabilities get an education

Across the world, at least 200 million children are estimated to be living with disabilities.

Because of stigma and social exclusion, data on children with disabilities is often inaccurate and incomplete. We know it’s not uncommon for families to feel the need to conceal the disabilities of their children in official surveys and censuses, weakening any government-led response effort and sabotaging children’s chances at an education.

This is especially widespread in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where the data we have access to shows 6.5 % of children from 2 to 9 years old are estimated to have some kind of disability.

Failing children who need our help

Marginalised from early childhood, children with disabilities are not provided access to basic education in mainstream educational institutions.

This is due to a lack of basic facilities, a lack of trained and motivated teaching staff prepared to work with them, and an education system unable to cope with children with special educational and social needs.

As a result, many children remain out of school.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is still one of Europe’s poorest countries

Speaking from Sarajevo, a Save the Children staff member says, “the country has its own internal poverty war going on. Children don’t go to pre-school and the youth in this country feel deeply pessimistic about the future and job security”.

The youth unemployment rate is at 62% for 15–24 year olds. Almost all children (98.1%) aged 0-4 are deprived of at least one of the five dimensions* related to deprivation for those under five years old.

Children are dis-proportionally affected by poverty and deprivation. The absolute poverty rate is 30.5% compared to 23.4% for the overall population. And, BiH has the lowest pre-school participation rate in the region with only about 14% of children attending pre-school.

Inspiring inclusive education

Save the Children — with the help of donors — has invested heavily in Bosnia and Herzegovina, building the capacities of local stakeholders so that they can effectively address a wide range of issues affecting children.

The Inclusive Education program, in northern Bosnia, was developed to reach the most deprived children and youth with disabilities. The project is designed around the ideas and voices of children and their parents (mainly mothers) who were at the core of the development of this project, from start to finish.

In addition, the programme implements Save the Children’s core principles – outlined in the Ambition 2030 strategy theory of change which includes children’s voices, innovation, promoting partnerships and scaling up effective implementation of best practices, programmes and policies for children.

It also demonstrated how the five Global Themes could be integrated where the most disadvantaged children in the area can be educated, protected and provided with healthcare — all under one roof.

Life-changing partnerships

The success of the project can be credited to productive partnerships with local government ministries[1] who have a shared-ownership and are heavily invested in the program.  Other factors include a strong outreach and community mobilisation.

A lot can be learned from this regional initiative of Save the Children, which, along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, is simultaneously being implemented in Albania, Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244/99), Armenia and Georgia, which are meeting all Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including SDG 17.

Some of the mothers speaking to us fully understand the problem. According to them, the wider population need to be aware of what social exclusion can do to a child and a family leaving them to deal with inter-generational trauma in the absence of the right social capital. This is when we have the potential to see real change – a world where no one is left behind.

[1] USC Ministry of Education, science, culture and sports, USC Ministry of health, labour and social policy, USC Health insurance institute, cities of Bihac and Cazin, and municipalities of Sanski Most, Kljuc, Velika Kladusa, Buzim, Bosanska Krupa and Bosanski Petrovac.

*Nutrition, Health, Child Development, Violent Discipline, Information Access, and Housing.

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