Disability month

Protecting the rights of the mentally disabled

Protect the rights of mentally disabled
68% of disabled girls are abused

International studies have shown that nine out of 10 mentally or physically disabled people will experience sexual abuse at some point in their lives; 68% of disabled girls will be abused before their 18th birthday. 

South Africa is no different. In the former Transkei, the rape of mentally disabled girls is so common that parents are no longer shocked when it happens: in one care home almost every disabled girl who arrives there has been raped.

This month we observe disability month. According to the government communication and information system it has "made great strides in providing services to people with disabilities", mainly through disability grants. The grants alone, however, are grossly inadequate.

Children with disabilities need health services, care homes and protection. In this country, many of them don't get them. The Eastern Cape, for instance, does not have a single child psychiatry ward in a government hospital and the health department employs only three child psychiatrists. Most children are never diagnosed, let alone treated. Research has shown that only a quarter of disabled children in need of rehabilitation in Orange Farm in Johannesburg received such services and less than half the children entitled to a social assistance grant were getting it.

There are only 80 day treatment facilities for mentally disabled people in the country and half of these are run by nongovernmental organisations reliant on "ever-decreasing" government funding, according to the South African Federation for Mental Health. Yet, mental disorders rank third in their contribution to the country's overall disease burden, according to the health department's draft mental health strategic plan for 2013 to 2020, which comes out later this year.

There is an urgent need to develop more community-based mental health services. And whereas the health department is trying to move away from "institutionalised care" for disabled people and shift to "community care", savings incurred as a result of budget cuts in tertiary psychiatric care facilities have not been transferred to support community projects.

South Africa has some of the most progressive disability laws in the world. It's a shame we can't implement them effectively.

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