A significant legal breakthrough for children with disabilities in China

Teacher Wu, from Qinshuying Primary School, is reading 12-year-old Luo Shigang a story about a little rabbit making a snowman. Shigang, who lives in Weishan County in the Yunnan Province, was born with a birth defect to both his ears, resulting in hearing problems that affect his language and speech.

Wu is teaching him some simple sentences and words using exaggerated mouth shapes and gestures. Shigang reads her mouth, and says that the snowflake is “white and beautiful” and the rabbit has a “red scarf.”

The school found a teacher who could speak local dialect and communicate with him. Gradually, he is beginning to read titles and short sentences in Chinese textbooks, and count numbers up to 100. Although he is a little bit behind other students in academic subjects, Shigang is good at sports and is the fastest sprinter in his class.

Although there is a lack of accurate data on children with disabilities in China, it is estimated that there are around 3.9 million children with disabilities aged 0 to 14 in the country. Around a third of these children do not attend primary school, while attendance for children without disabilities is close to 100%. There is a great deal of stigma and many negative misconceptions around the idea of children with disabilities attending mainstream schools.

On 1 May, the Government of China announced revised regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities. Save the Children is particularly pleased to see these emphasize that inclusive education should be the first choice for children with disabilities. The previous regulations, which dated back to 1994, were weak and not a conducive framework for inclusive education.

It was one of the main advocacy asks of our Every Last Child campaign in China, which focuses on access to education for children with disabilities. The law revision work began in 2011 and Save the Children has been advocating for the revisions since 2012. We played a leading role in this achievement as we have the programming expertise; we formed partnerships with academic institutions and worked very closely with the Ministry of Education. Through our efforts, we have demonstrated best practice in less developed areas and showed how we can achieve it in China’s context.

The IKEA Foundation has been funding a large part of our inclusive education work in China, through our colleagues at Save the Children Sweden.

While the revised regulations will benefit many children, there is still a long way to go until they are fully implemented and until children stop suffering from stigma associated with disabilities.

By He Dan, Communications and Campaign Manager from Save the Children’s China Country Office, first from right
    Yuanling Li