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The Pacific comes to Canberra: Youth summit delegates meet with Pat Conroy on women and children

Ahead of the UN International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPD) on Saturday 3 December, a group of young disability advocates from the Pacific will today meet with the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy.

Masalina Iuta from Samoa is one emerging leader bringing awareness to the problems faced by women, children and youth with disabilities in our region directly to the ministerial table after attending the Pacific Australian Emerging Leaders Summit at Parliament House in Canberra. Together with other advocates from Solomon Islands, Fiji and Indonesia, Iuta and her fellow delegates bring lived experience with disability in the region more broadly.

As part of IDPD, CBM Australia is running the #MyStartCounts campaign to build awareness of the 107.5 million children with disabilities in the poorest nations of our region. CBM CEO, Jane Edge, said Australia was a global leader in disability inclusion, but ongoing work was urgently needed to meet growing demand in the region. 

“Children with disabilities in the region face exclusion and disadvantage across many domains,” Ms Edge said. “They are amongst the world’s most disadvantaged and marginalised children. The Indo-Pacific alone represents 45% of the world’s children with disabilities. They face barriers to health, education and support that so often bind them to a life of extreme poverty.”

CBM has released a sobering snapshot of the current state of disability services and life outcomes for children with disabilities in the region. The new paper, Towards Brighter Futures: Children with Disabilities in the Asia Pacific Region, brings together research on data, education and health. Insights include that on average, one in three children with disabilities is not in school and even more are not likely to receive any early intervention services.

Ms Edge said CBM welcomed the Australian Government’s recent restoration of cuts to central disability funds within the aid budget. CBM is also pleased to see additional investment in the Pacific, with broader development assistance amounting to $900 million over four years from 2022-23. However, the needs of children with disabilities continue to increase at an alarming rate.

“We can and must do more. These children are the most at risk, yet so often are the most overlooked,” she said. “We need to keep increasing disability funding in the aid program. We need to prioritise meaningful partnerships with organisations on the front line, and we urgently need to invest in improved data collection to understand and effectively plan to meet the needs of these children. 

“Governments, donors and other development actors need to support inclusive research and data collection in the Indo-Pacific region, and we must commit to addressing barriers and combating stigma, discrimination and violence.

“Communities can be agents for change ensuring an inclusive future for the millions of children with disabilities who are living in poverty. We must work alongside them for better outcomes.”

The #MyStartCounts campaign aims to build momentum by asking Australians to participate in a virtual event and share images and videos on their social media.

1. TUNE IN. The community is invited to tune in to an online event at 2pm AEDT on 2 December hosted by Jane Edge to view the screening of an interview with two young disability advocates - Maselina Iuta and Beia Temango - to learn from their lived experience. Attendees will also view a new video telling the stories of children throughout the region ahead of IDPD on 3 December. The video shares the voices of children with disabilities and the challenges they face in accessing care, education and inclusion in The Philippines and Kenya.

2. SHARE for example this short video, and other posts tagged #MyStartCounts and #IDPD2022

About Maselina Iuta

Maselina Iuta is a Project Officer for the Deaf Association of Samoa, and an advocate for disability rights in the Pacific. She works throughout regional, national and community mechanisms to advocate for the rights of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing to be included in all aspects of life as stipulated under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Passionate about climate change adaptation and inclusive disaster risk management, she seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities are supported to take on leadership roles to ensure that no one is left behind in the efforts to combat climate change. Maselina is the Pacific Regional Winner for the Commonwealth Youth Award in 2021.

About Beia Temango

Beia Temango is from the central Pacific Ocean nation Kiribati. He is a keen advocate for the inclusion and participation of people who are blind or vision impaired. After studying Community Services at the Kiribati Institute of Technology, he is a project officer for the Kiribati Association of people who are blind or vision impaired (KABVI Organisation of People with Disabilities). He works to develop and improve advocacy to communities, NGOs, churches, and the Government about inclusion and participation of people who are vision impaired.

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