This article has been published in Enabling Education 1
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Title: Our Voice is Heard at Last
Author: Hurst, R
Publisher: EENET
Date: 1997

Our voice is heard at last</h2?
Rachel Hurst sent us this report from Geneva.
“I am Chantal Rex. I am a 17 year old disabled youth representing South Africa.”

“I am Pearl Makutuone. I am a deaf youth from Soweto in Johannesburg.”

With these opening words the two young girls gave the very first formal presentation by children themselves to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The committee was holding their annual ‘thematic’ day focusing on disabled children on October 6, 1997 in Geneva.

Chantal, exhausted by negotiating the endless corridors of the UN building on her crutches, spoke of how her family had been forced to move from their rural village to Cape Town in order to get medical and educational support. Pearl, deafened by the riots in Soweto, spoke of her frustration and loneliness because of communication difficulties and superstitious attitudes to disabled people. They were angry that rights for disabled people were being systematically denied. Both pleaded that society did not “stand in our way of leading a better life. We demand the recognition we deserve. Don’t pity us, become actively involved and support us!”

Their words moved many to tears and gave validity to previous presentations by disabled adults who had described the continuing violation of disabled children’s right to life itself through abortion, sterilisation laws and medical practices. With both hearts and minds engaged, the Committee gave a strong commitment to further action. They felt that disability caused by barriers of attitude and environment is the greatest discrimination and violation of human rights. There was no doubt at all that the voices of these two girls made a substantial difference.

Rachel Hurst is the Director of Disability Awareness in Action , a UK based non government organisation and can be contacted at: 11 Belgrave Road . London . SW1V 1RB . Tel: +44 (0)171 834 0477 . Fax: +44 (0)171 821 9539