On 24 September 2020, the ICJ held a webinar in collaboration with the Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled on the right to education for children with disabilities.
Presenters and participants included representatives from civil society organizations, teachers’ unions, teachers and the Lesotho Department of Education.
“Children with disabilities have a right to access to education on an equal basis with all other children. The COVID-19 pandemic must not hamper the Lesotho governments efforts to ensure access to inclusive education for all children,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ’s Africa Director.
Participants highlighted accessibility-related problems faced by learners with disabilities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some examples include:
- Ordinary masks necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19 inhibit communication for learners with hearing disabilities who often communication in part by lip-reading. These require access to face visors and/or transparent masks. Some deaf students also had difficulty in understanding the COVID-19 pandemic and virus, despite efforts to explain it to them.
- Blind learners need more access to hand sanitizer as they need to touch their surroundings for mobility. This also makes social distancing more difficult for them.
- Teachers have trouble understanding how to comply with social distancing measures while assisting learners experiencing epileptic seizures.
- Many learners with disabilities have stayed at home during the pandemic, not understanding why they were not at school.
- Many children with disabilities are rendered more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation as they observe stay at home rules.
A representative of the Department of Education explained various measures which government had put in place to ensure that these obstacles could be overcome so that learners with disabilities could enjoy their right to education in the context of COVID-19. Learners’ health and safety would also remain a priority.
The Department noted the delays in the implementation of its inclusive education policy as a result of a lack of funding as government resources are diverted to COVID-19 responses.
The need for compliance with Lesotho’s global and regional international human rights obligations was also highlighted with participants agreeing about the importance of ensuring that there is “strength in numbers” in advocacy efforts toward the realization of children with disabilities’ right to education.
“Ensuring the right to education of persons with disabilities does not imply sacrificing and compromising their right to health. All human rights are interdependent and Lesotho should be guided by all of its human rights obligations as it continues to implement its domestic inclusive education policy during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ramjathan-Keogh added.
Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa require States parties to ensure that their education systems are inclusive and fully realize the right to education of all children with disabilities. The normative content of Article 24 of the CRPD and corresponding obligations of member States are expanded on in the General Comment No 4 of the Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on access to education, find the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education’s report here.
Nokukhanya (Khanyo) Farisè, Legal Adviser (Africa Regional Programme), e: nokukhanya.farise(a)icj.org
Tanveer Jeewa, Communications Officer (Africa Regional Programme), e: tanveer.jeewa(a)icj.orgNewsWeb stories