NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 19 – US Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judith Heumann has asked Kenya to prosecute anybody who commits crimes against people living with disabilities.
Heumann who has been in the country for about a week meeting Kenyans living with disabilities said it was unfortunate that many children and women in Kenya are sexually abused but rarely are investigations carried out.
“The only way is when the government makes it clear that it is illegal and prosecutes the offenders. There is violence against women and children with disabilities, rape and other forms of abuse,” she asserted.
She urged the government to train police to empower them with knowledge and skills of dealing with crimes committed against people dealing with disability since they are usually overlooked.
Heumann further said not many people expect people living with disabilities to be sexually active hence the discrimination when they are seeking treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and appealed to Kenya to provide them with health facilities.
“People don’t perceive disabled people as being sexual, they don’t think things like rape and the contraction of HIV and others can happen to them,” she explained as she expressed concerns that some of them are even turned away when they appear for HIV testing.
“Health workers should be trained that they don’t turn away people with disabilities because we hear disabled people are turned away from clinics when they wanted to be tested for HIV,” she added.
She also appealed to concerned bodies in the country to include needs of people living with disabilities in their infrastructural developments to ensure they too can use the transport system.
She applauded Kenya for the milestone of reconstructing new roads but called for recognition that people with special needs require to be considered to create ways for those using wheelchairs.
Heumann singled out albinism as one of the serious disabilities that even lead to killing of newborn babies as some communities in the society believe albinism is a curse.
“The treatment of albinos in Kenya appears to be a bigger issue, it is one thing that people have talked to me about that there are children who are born in the society, when they don’t understand the genetic causes, they have been killing children because they believe it is a curse,” she explained.
She appealed to the government and concerned parties to educate the society to accept people living with disabilities and respect their rights especially in respect to albinism.
She expressed concern that children with disabilities sometimes are forced to drop out of school for various reasons including discrimination by other children or the school management.
Heumann however pointed fingers at parents who failed to take their children with disabilities to school saying they were denying them their right to education.
She expressed satisfaction that Kenya was doing a lot to cater for people with disabilities especially the new Constitution which is advocating for their rights and representation.
She also applauded the groups of people living disabilities in the country recognising their positive activism that has led to their recognition.
The 63 year old whose goal is to have people with disabilities accepted and included in their societies uses her experience to front for their rights by protecting them.
Despite being on a wheelchair, Heumann makes sacrifices to travel across continents with the main aim of meeting governments and other stakeholders to know the plight of people living with disability.
Heumann got polio at the age of 18 months.
But today she is a role model that life can be made easier for people living with disabilities if only governments and societies accept them, recognise them and cater for their special needs.
Heumann has a story to tell of her struggles as a young girl who could not be admitted in a public school until her 4th grade because of her disability.
She was also only given a teaching position after she sued the Board of Education in New York City for denying her the position just because she was on a wheelchair.
Despite her struggles, Heumann has risen through ranks since her graduation in 1969 from Long Island University.
In 1975 she got a Masters degree in public health administration from the University of California.
Through her position as the US Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, it is Heumann’s dream that every person with disability will live a respected life where they can access health care, education and employment.