Children, Women and Men with Disabilities in Vanuatu: What do the data say? 

Global evidence indicates that children and adults with disabilities are among the most marginalized and excluded groups in society. They are often excluded from the economic and social life of their communities, lacking access to school, health clinics, public transportation, public spaces, work sites and community events. This exclusion can result from inaccessible infrastructure, and from institutional barriers and discriminatory attitudes. 

To promote the inclusion and full rights of children and adults with disabilities, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006, affirming that people with disabilities are entitled to equal participation in society. This idea is encapsulated in the CRPD definition of disability: “Persons with disabilities include those who have longterm physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

The Republic of Vanuatu signed the CRPD in 2007 and ratified it in 2008. Accordingly, the Government of Vanuatu has undertaken a number of important steps since then to move forward towards implementing the CRPD. It established the National Disability Policy and Plan of Action 2008-2015, the Mental Health Policy and Plan 2009-2015, and the Inclusive Education Policy and Strategic Plan 2010-2020. The Government of Vanuatu also created a Disability Desk within the Ministry of Justice and Community Services to monitor the implementation of disabilityrelated policies and to coordinate collaboration with government institutions, civil society and development partners. Moreover, efforts are underway on a variety of service provision programmes, including community-based rehabilitation, physiotherapy, sports therapy, and awareness-raising activities.

Disability statistics are essential for informing policy makers and building the case for the advancement of policies, funding and programmes for fulfilling the rights of children and adults with disabilities. The Government of Vanuatu has collected data on disability using different instruments: the 2009 National Population and Housing Census (NPHC); the 2013 Vanuatu Demographic and Health Survey (VDHS); and the 2014 Vanuatu Disability Pilot Survey (VDPS). Administrative data on children with disabilities enrolled in school are also available from Vanuatu’s Education Management Information System (VEMIS). Each of these disability data collection instruments has advantages and limitations.

According to Vanuatu’s 2009 Census and based on the definitions used in this report, around 5 percent of the population have a mild, moderate or severe disability. However, according to the VDHS, the disability prevalence rate is only 3.3 percent, but there are strong reasons to believe that the survey undercounts people with mild and moderate disabilities. The rate of severe disability according to the VDHS is 2.4 percent, which is similar to the rates found in studies in other countries.

Questions on disability in the Census and the VDHS do not make it possible to determine the prevalence of disability among young children due to the nature of the questions asked about disability. Nonetheless, according to VEMIS, 7–8 percent of primary school children have a disability. If we assume that children with disabilities are less likely to attend school, as has been found in this report and many studies in other countries, then the overall rate of childhood disability is most likely higher.

This report examines the differences in disability rates with respect to three sociodemographic characteristics: place of residence, age and gender. The prevalence of disability is higher in rural areas than urban areas, and among adults, strongly correlated with old age. Due to data limitations, little can be inferred about the relationship between disability and age for children and adolescents. The report did not find a consistent relationship between gender and disability, except at the upper end of the age distribution; i.e. men over 70 years of age are about twice as likely to have a disability.

Among persons who have been identified as having a moderate or severe disability, for both females and males, sight is the most prevalent problematic functional area. The next most prevalent type of disability is hearing difficulties for men and mobility limitations of women. Young people with disabilities are more inclined to have difficulties in the functional domains of cognition and communication than older people.

Associated factors, or correlates, may be either risk factors for the development of disability or consequences of disability, such as discrimination or restricted social participation and exclusion. This report examines the relationship between disability and other selected indicators available in Vanuatu’s datasets, including educational attainment, poverty, employment, marital status, attitudes towards domestic violence, and child disciplinary practices. Due to data limitations, it was not possible to look at the association with health variables such as child immunization or nutrition. Key findings include the following:

Education: Children with disabilities are significantly less likely to attend school than their non-disabled peers. For example, among 10-19 year olds, the gap in primary school attainment is more than 53 percentage points. Among adults, differences in educational attainment based on disability status are less pronounced, likely because a majority become disabled when they are passed the school age.

Poverty: People with disabilities are much more likely to be poor; nearly 31 percent of people with severe disabilities are living in the lowest wealth quintile, compared with 16 percent of people without reported disabilities. The causal connection between disability and poverty is complex and multi-directional: disability could be caused by conditions associated with poverty; having a disability could inhibit one’s ability to obtain wealth; and/or households with more wealth may have better access to health care or other services that lessen the degree of disability even if it does not eliminate its presence.

Economic activity: While people with disabilities are equally likely to take part in productive activities as non-disabled people, they are less likely to be employed outside the home and more likely to be either self-employed or working in a family business. This shows that despite the willingness and capability of people with disabilities to undertake productive activities, there are barriers preventing them from obtaining employment.

Domestic violence against children and women: The data suggest that parents of children with disabilities are more likely to use violent disciplinary practices (especially psychological aggression and, to a lesser extent, physical punishment) than parents without children with disabilities. The husbands of women with disabilities, however, were less inclined to justify wife-beating under certain circumstances. Since this finding differs from studies in other countries, further investigation is needed to determine if the finding is accurate, or merely skewed by certain methodological issues.

The data explored in this report show clear gaps in access to basic services and participation based on disability status, but due to data limitations, these findings
should be taken as indicative only. Recommendations are made in the report to improve the methodology of future studies in line with international standards, and to scale up the Vanuatu Disability Pilot Survey, with a focus on exploring the barriers to participation. In addition to knowledge that disability is associated with less education, less wealth, and less employment, it is important to understand the most important barriers to participation in order to design more cost-effective policies.

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