The Plight of People with disabilities in post-conflict Sierra Leone.

19 October 2010 at 03:44 | 3616 views

By Teddy Foday-Musa, The Netherlands.


The plight of people with disabilities has become a post-conflict reconstruction challenge for the Government of Sierra Leone. People with disabilities in the country are entirely excluded and relegated to the backyard of community and national development. Bentry Kalanga, Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) Senior Program Manager for Africa, said: “The disabled community’s voice is generally a voice that is not heard in discussions of development in Sierra Leone - people with disabilities have less access to education, health care and employment in a country where such access is already quite low” (2010). This publication is the product of a research conducted with regards the plight of people with disabilities in post-conflict Sierra Leone.

A devastating war gripped Sierra Leone through the 1990s and into the turn of the country. Rebels gruesomely amputated the hands and feet of men, women, and children, in order to terrorize the population and to deter them from supporting the government. The Civil war began on the 23rd March 1991, by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), under the leadership of Foday Saybanah Sankoh. RUF’s war was characterized by banditry and horrific brutality towards civilians. “Their signature was cutting off hands and feet of men, women and children” (Cordel Robin-Coker, 2005). When the war ended in 2001, tens and thousands of people had lost their lives and more than two million individuals were displaced, living in refugee camps sponsored by the International Community. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 2.3 and 3.3 million of the world’s forcibly displaced people live with disabilities, one third of them children (2010). Below I bring you the plight of people with disabilities in Sierra Leone, based on my research:The Vulnerability of Women with Disabilities:

Speaking to a cross-section of women with disabilities in Sierra Leone in December 2009, they expressed to me how their disabilities had ended their marriages, isolated them from their families and communities and destroyed their future. Women recounted how they were no longer regarded as future wives or mothers. In terms of Socio-cultural Status, women with disability in Sierra Leone signify dependency, weakness, loss of status and relegation to an unproductive, asexual role in the community. “Strong networks, both national and international, are needed to enable girls and women with disability to support each other in their efforts to join the world” (Pride against Prejudice, 1991. London).

Literacy and Education:

People with disability in Sierra Leone have little or no access to education. Most of the Children who have attained the age of going to school have become street beggars, roaming about to fend for their daily bread. Recent UNESCO studies have suggested that only approximately 1-2% of disabled children in developing countries like Sierra Leone go through education and literacy programs. These studies are confirmed by presentations made to the UN Experts Seminar on Women and Disability (Vienna 1990).

Employment and Career Possibilities:

The belief that people with disabilities in Sierra Leone will not benefit from education, predates their participation in the labour force. Gaining employment and maintaining a long-life career is almost impossibility for people with disability in Sierra Leone. Their social survival often hinges on family assistance. The 2009 Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) report says that “among disabled and non-disabled alike, most Sierra Leoneans count primarily on family and friends for social and economic support” (2009).

Sexual Abuse:

People with disabilities in Sierra Leone are specifically vulnerable to sexual and emotional abuse and may require additional protection. The lack of privacy in some situations, such as a lack of latrines or bathing areas, increases the risk of abuse. People with disabilities are very often isolated from community life; they risk being left behind when those around them flee and may face difficulties accessing family tracing programs.

Childhood Experience and Guidance:

Recent research has established that the first three years and, certainly the first five years of a child’s life, are crucial to both their cognitive and emotional development. Specifically, the more children are spoken to and read to in a nurturing environment, the more they respond and develop. Conversely, studies of institutionalization have shown that isolation and lack of stimulation can stunt and negatively impact a child’s development. In Sierra Leone, child with a disability is given the least attention and nurturing in the family, and is often isolated from social interaction. It is of critical importance that early stimulation and intervention programs be made available to these children with disabilities.

One would like to ask the question: “What is the Government of Sierra Leone doing about this?” Against this back drop, I conducted another research with regards the impute of Government in trying to address the deplorable condition of people with disabilities. I came up with the following:

-  That in collaboration with the National Committee for the Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (NCRPD), the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs on Wednesday 3rd December 2008, held a National Consultative Conference on the rights of persons living with disabilities.

-  That the aim of the three-day conference was to validate the Draft Disability Policy and Persons with Disabilities Act of 2007, in order to accelerate and promote parliamentary enactment as a first critical step towards the inclusion and protection of their rights.

-  That effort is under way by the government of Sierra Leone to implement the “Disability Act”. As a step forward in this direction, in July 2009, the Government of Sierra Leone ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and is currently working on national legislation to ensure compliance.

No doubt the Government of Sierra Leone has a role to play. However, it is my personal belief that the required effort to promote equality of right, and social integration for people with disabilities, should not only come from the angle of government. Individual Sierra Leoneans, including civil societies should all pull their own strings in order to make a difference in this direction. This is a clarion call on all and sundry.