STATEMENT BY THE HON. DR. SYLVIA OLAYINKA BLYDEN, MINISTER OF SOCIAL WELFARE, GENDER AND CHILDREN’S AFFAIRS OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE AT THE TENTH SESSION OF THE CONFERENCE OF STATES PARTIES TO THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES, NEW YORK, USA, 13TH -15TH JUNE 2017.
Your Excellency Mr. Georgi Panayotov, President of Conference, I stand on existing protocols to bring you greetings on behalf of His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, the Government and people of the Republic of Sierra Leone especially our community of persons with all categories of disabilities. We join previous speakers in congratulating you and members of the Bureau on your election and assure you of my delegation’s full support and confidence in execution of your mandate. I commend the Secretariat for organizing this year’s conference with the excellent theme of: “The Second Decade of the CRPD: Inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the implementation of the Convention”.
Mr. President, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, since our domestication of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the form of the Persons with Disability Act in 2011, Sierra Leone has regularly participated at this States Parties Conference as a practical demonstration of our commitment to implement the provisions of the Convention. Furthermore, we have always ensured the full participation of the Disabled in both our preparation for this august meeting as well as our participation herein.
My delegation from Sierra Leone participating at this Conference has 50% of the delegates who flew from Sierra Leone to themselves be Disabled. In evidence of the fact that Disability is not Inability; though these delegates have impairments such as being visually impaired, they are amongst the most brilliant and highly productive citizens of Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone, especially under the leadership of H.E. President Koroma, practicalizes the inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities in our national development programmes. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender & Children’s Affairs in Sierra Leone is responsible for all policies and programmes around Disability issues and as the female Cabinet Minister in charge there, I have been mandated by H.E. President Koroma to sustain the momentum he has built.
So this year we are here to share with you our achievements, challenges and then map out the appropriate strategies that will ensure the fulfilment of the leaving no one behind campaign of the United Nations.
Mr. President, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are specifically inclusive of Disability in fundamental goals which seek to correct how the Disabled had been largely left out of focus during the first decade of the implementation of the CRPD simply because the MDGs had lapses that failed to realize the dignity and rights of Persons with Disabilities. Indeed, the Disabled population in the world remains the largest minority group as they cut across regions, religions, ethnicity, gender and other sectors so the theme of this year’s COSP 2017 perfectly resonates with Sierra Leone which believes a true implementing of the SDGs over the next 13 years, can only happen when there is full participation of persons with disabilities in the development processes of their societies. Recognising challenges faced by those with Disabilities and providing solutions to overcome them, is a critical component of development.
Sierra Leone, after the War ended in 2002, had a new category of Disabled who were victims of the war such as those with amputated limbs. Today, as we emerge out of the Ebola Outbreak, we are sad to report that many Ebola Survivors are left with impairments that leave them with significant percentage of Disability. We have a growing number of survivors who have gone blind or become physically disable because of problems with their eyes or joints respectively. We also have mentally disable citizens struggling to cope with the effects of the Ebola Outbreak.
Factually, Sierra Leone especially with the advent of the National Commission for Persons with Disability, has made remarkable progress in promoting and protecting the rights, dignity and well-being of persons with disabilities. The Chairman of the Commission who is here with me as a delegate, has led a Commission which has been effective in strides to protect Disables from discrimination as well as leading various advocacy campaigns.
Indeed, there is a plethora of activities implemented to encourage the full participation of persons with disabilities. Some of them are, but not limited to; the incorporation of persons with disabilities in the Sierra Leone Police Force; the development of the draft education policy which further enhances the current provision for free education of persons with disabilities; the setting up within my Ministry of the Inter-Agency Forum on SDG Disability Indices which brings together relevant stakeholders to critically develop programmes and activities that will improve the lives of persons with disabilities; the inclusion of disability related questions in the 2015 Population and Housing Census which has provided us with an existing data on disability; the first ever analysis of disability as a thematic area in the 2015 census; the appointment of a visually impaired person to champion the activities of our Ministry in the largest region of the Country; the inclusion of the views of persons with disabilities in the Constitutional Review process; the ongoing development to set up a Medical Board to ensure that children are screened for early detection of disability and adults are correctly and quickly diagnosed with impairments causing them disabilities; the provision of free health care services to all persons with disabilities and many more developments.
The issue of concern over Disability issues is so entrenched in Sierra Leone that almost every new development activity is embedded with careful design to ensure care for our Disable population is considered. For example, all new roads are built only after extensive consultations to ensure they are Disable friendly. Our longest newly constructed intra-city highway, Wilkinson Road was built to be very disable-friendly and the ongoing massive Wellington Masiaka Toll Road is being constructed only after experts at my Ministry had first ensured members of our Disable population can very easily traverse it as pedestrians.
Our Social Protection policies ensure care for the Disabled population is a stand-alone pillar. This has ensured when the highly successful unconditional Cash Transfers are being done, there is a special focus on disability indices when selection of beneficiaries are being done. Very special attention is also being paid to Disabled Citizens especially the Ebola Survivors by the Government.
All of these and even more chains of activities and programmes speak volumes about Sierra Leone’s commitment in the inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities in national development.
However, inspite of the tremendous progress made in promoting the inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities, the fact remains that there is still a lot of work to be done in implementing the CRPD and so provide persons with disabilities an opportunity to compete on equal terms with their abled counterparts.
Mr. President, Sierra Leone has made huge strides in implementing the articles of the CRPD which promote and protect the rights, dignity and wellbeing of persons with disabilities. However, there are challenges. For example, we still have many of our Disable population being forced to take to the streets to beg for alms; there are obstacles to overcome which inhibit their productivity and self-respect such as challenges with securing affordable housing, securing Employment and Skills training. On this note, we continue to call on our Development Partners to assist us with disability specific expertise and also with financial support for specific Disability programmes such as the proposed unique ID Cards for categories of the Disabled.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude this brief Statement by reaffirming our commitment to work with the International Community and other key stakeholders to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities. Sierra Leone believes there should be no gaps between policy and practice in the implementation of the 2030 Development Agenda which calls for the inclusion and full participation of disabled persons in all sectors. We therefore make a call for Member States to give serious consideration to the creation of a Specialised United Nations Agency solely dedicated to coordinate activities around the largest minority group today; the Disabled Population of the world.