NEW YORK (December 2, 2021) – All around the world, the nearly 240 million children living with disabilities — 1 in 10 children worldwide — are being denied basic rights, UNICEF said ahead of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. 

“Like every child in the world, children with disabilities have the right to be nurtured through responsive care, supported in education, and provided with adequate nutrition and social protection, including in humanitarian situations. But all too often, such rights are denied,” said Rosangela Berman-Bieler, UNICEF Global Lead on Disability. “We can and must do more to ensure the nearly quarter of a billion children with disabilities worldwide are able to realize their rights. We must provide children with disabilities with equal opportunities by ensuring community support and services are inclusive and accessible, stigma and discrimination are eradicated, and that they are protected from violence, abuse and neglect. There is a story behind every statistic – a child with hopes, fears, potential and ambitions.” 

According to the latest data, compared to children without disabilities, children with disabilities are:  

  • 24 per cent less likely to receive early stimulation and responsive care. Children with disabilities risk missing out on the care and stimulation they need in the early years due to increased exposure to factors that make them more vulnerable. These include poverty, stigma and discrimination, exclusion from early learning opportunities, institutionalization, violence, abuse and neglect.   
  • 42 per cent less likely to have foundational reading and numeracy skills. Children with disabilities typically face additional barriers that place them at higher risk of experiencing less than optimal educational trajectories. When families do search for educational opportunities for their children, they often find schools and classrooms that are not accessible, either physically or due to the lack of appropriate learning materials. 
  • 49 per cent more likely to have never attended school. The likelihood of a child never attending school can depend on her or his functional difficulty or economic background. For example, children with disabilities from the poorest households are substantially more likely to have never attended school than their peers from the richest households.
  • 25 per cent more likely to be wasted and 34 per cent more likely to be stunted. Children with disabilities frequently experience higher rates of underweight, stunting and wasting than their peers without disabilities. This is especially true among children with difficulties seeing, playing and walking as well as those from the poorest households. 
  • 53 per cent more likely to have symptoms of acute respiratory infection. Children with disabilities, especially those in the poorest and rural households, are at elevated risk of experiencing diarrhea, fever and symptoms of acute respiratory infection. Children with disabilities who develop an illness or infection, including an ARI, are more susceptible to severe illness, poorer health outcomes and hospitalization than children without disabilities. 
  • 51 per cent more likely to feel unhappy and 41 per cent more likely to feel discriminated against. How individuals perceive their own well-being is based on a wide array of factors. However, many children with disabilities experience discrimination because of their impairments. Since discrimination can raise barriers in accessing services that these children need to realize their rights, it is likely that it negatively affects their subjective well-being.  

UNICEF works with partners at global and local levels to realize the rights of children with disabilities. All children, including those with disabilities, must have a say in the issues that affect their lives, and be provided with the opportunity to realize their potential and claim their rights. UNICEF is calling on governments to: 

Provide children with disabilities with equal opportunities. Governments must work together with persons with disabilities, professionals working with children, and businesses and organizations to ensure: 

  1. All services are inclusive and accessible: Birth registration, early childhood development, education, health, nutrition, immunizations, water and sanitation, and social services must be accessible and inclusive of children with disabilities and their families throughout their lives, wherever they may live, in times of stability and emergency.  
  2. Education is inclusive and accessible: All aspects of education must be made accessible to support the learning and development of children with disabilities, together with their peers without disabilities, in the community they live. This should include accessible learning materials and inclusive curricula, securing assistive technologies, training teachers and administrators, as well as providing accessible infrastructure, recreational spaces, water and sanitation facilities, and transportation. 
  3. Stigma and discrimination are eradicated: The voices of children with disabilities are supported and amplified by investing in evidence-based, multi-level strategies to address negative attitudes and ableism towards persons with disabilities; enacting policies that combat institutionalized stigma and discrimination; and empowering children, families and communities to inspire positive culture change. 

Consult persons with disabilities and consider the full range of disabilities, as well as the specific needs of children and their families, when providing inclusive services and equitable quality education: 

  1. Caregiving and family-friendly policies: Promote responsive caregiving, family-friendly policies and prioritize programmes at the community level to enable families to care for their children with disabilities at home, or to provide family-based alternative care settings. 
  2. Mental health and psychosocial support: Support services are made accessible to children with disabilities and their families by being integrated into community-based healthcare, schools, protection and justice services, and spaces for children and young people affected by emergencies. 
  3. Protection against violence, abuse and neglect: Support child protection systems and workforces to become disability-inclusive and enhance their capacities to prevent separation of children with disabilities from their families, end institutionalization, and prevent and respond to violence, exploitation, abuse, neglect & harmful practices against children with different types of disabilities. 


Notes to editors: 

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is held on 3 December, 2021 

The full ‘Seen, Counted, Included’ report is available here

Multimedia assets are available here


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to pursue a more equitable world for every child. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF USA advances the global mission of UNICEF by rallying the American public to support the world’s most vulnerable children. Together, we are working toward a world that upholds the rights of all children and helps every child thrive. For more information, visit

For more information please contact:

Erica Vogel, UNICEF USA, 212.922.2480, [email protected]

Lauren Davitt, UNICEF USA, 212.922.2503, [email protected]