InfoHub: Thank you, Mrs. Aissatou Cisse, for accepting this interview with the African Child Information Hub. We highly appreciate your commitment, and we thank you for making a space for us in your busy schedule.
You are the Special Advisor to the President of the Republic of Senegal for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Vulnerable Persons, including those with Disabilities. How was this position created? What is the mandate you were given? What are your responsibilities?
Aissatou Cisse: Leading to the 2012 general elections, I was part of the presidential campaign team of the candidate Macky Sall. He invited me to be part of his campaign board because since Senegal’s independence in 1960, there have not been any real policies for promoting the interests and the protection of vulnerable persons, particularly those with disabilities. We discussed this several times and he asked me to support his candidacy and work on his campaign program to have the Senegalese people vote for him. And if God willing, he was elected, I would stay by his side to support him in his policies to eliminate the discrimination and social injustice that have long existed in our country.
And that's how after the presidential elections he officially appointed me as his special adviser in charge of promoting and protecting the rights of vulnerable people, including those with disabilities.
InfoHub: What is the current situation of children with disabilities in Senegal?
Aissatou Cisse: Unfortunately, we do not have disaggregated data for the number of children with disabilities. We have comprehensive data on disabled persons in Senegal amounting to 5.9% according to the latest surveys by the National Statistics and Demography Agency. I want us to do more comprehensive surveys to have real statistics for the number of disabled children, the number of disabled women, two characteristics that must be equally taken care of, because they are people who require many parameters for their care and their true integration into public policies.
The president signed the first decree1 of the Social Act (“Loi d’orientation sociale”) in 2012, his first year in office. The decree is related to the institution of special education for disabled children, and for that we need reliable statistics on the number of children with disabilities, their geographical location, in which regions they are most numerous, what kind of disability is much more prevalent than others, how to support them, how many children need to be in special schools and how the other children can attend Senegalese public schools through inclusive education.
Persons with disabilities have fought through their associations to obtain a Social Act. To get this Act it was necessary that Senegal ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was done in 2008, and two years later in 2010 the Social Act was adopted and two years after that, the first decree which brought about the issuance of the equal opportunities card was voted. That is also a conditionality of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Consequently, we will soon be delivering the equal opportunities card; and Disabled Person’s Organisations (DPOs) want the president himself to chair the delivery ceremony. And that is what we have been doing.
The equal opportunities card will enable children with disabilities holding it to have access to free health care in hospitals, to have access to free education (parents will no longer pay for the education of these children), access to recreation and many other benefits from the card for children. But the card is much more interesting for adults and adolescents because apart from education, teaching and health care, there is also employment. Since 2012, persons with disabilities are being integrated in the public service although with not much specific training; we are making efforts so that everyone can get the job they want, and that it is a decent employment as the head of state says. And so, the Equal Opportunities Card will also allow access to funding for programs and projects by people with disabilities. The state can finance the person with a disability in launching an entrepreneurial project, a micro-enterprise and his self-employment. The Senegalese state is now focused on self-employment. There are employment opportunities that we want to adapt to persons with disabilities but it requires costs, and implementation is a bit complicated. Similarly the State wants to focus on children with disabilities, their health treatment, especially children with mental disabilities. Taking care of children with mental disabilities like those with Down syndrome, with behavioural disorder and those requiring very specific care has always been an issue in Senegal.
InfoHub: Which are the specialised institutions working in this field?
Aissatou Cisse: Much remains to be done in this area: at public level, only one organisation deals with intellectual disability, and that is the CFDI2 (training centre for intellectual disabilities). But there is also the Aminata Baye Centre, which accommodates many children with intellectual disabilities. It is a semi-private centre that has developed many aptitudes in the care of children. Organisations have even started professionally integrating children and youth who have studied and were trained at the Aminata Baye Centre. The Aminata Baye Centre has opened another centre in the north, in St. Louis in order to spread its reach, because the problem we have right now is that all centres are concentrated in Dakar. Only for the visually impaired, is a centre available in Thies, even though Thies is not far from Dakar. In addition to the CFDI and the Aminata Baye Centre, we have the ESTEL3 centre, which takes care of children with intellectual disabilities and is located in Ouakam. So it's those few three centres that are responsible for the care of mental disability in children, and unfortunately we have a real need at regional level in Senegal for specialised centres in all aspects of disability: mental, physical, sight, and hearing impairment.
InfoHub: Which are the state and non-state entities in charge of the various issues related to children with disabilities in Senegal; what are their roles?
Aissatou Cisse: The specificity of Senegal is in the fact that the State is responsible for the specialised institutions except the private ones not managed by civil society. When people who are interested in disability create a centre that takes care of children, the State subsidises them in order to keep admission costs affordable.
In Senegal, the Department of Health and Social Action deals with children with disabilities, the Ministry of Education also deals with children with disabilities, the Ministry of Finance is also involved because everything related to equipments need to be budgeted for. And that is the reason we have a hybrid function at the presidency level to oversee everything and to coordinate the necessary help and actions of each.
InfoHub: And that is your role?
Aissatou Cisse: Exactly.
InfoHub: Please provide us with an overview of the Disabled People’s Organisations movement in your country? How do they organise? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are some of their significant achievements?
Aissatou Cisse: They have a strong association which succeeded in the ratification of the UN Convention4 first and the adoption of the Social Orientation Law. So these are fairly well organised people even though there are disparities and other squabbles like in any other association. They are people who managed to achieve substantial progress in the disability movement. They now need to be better organised and develop more general ambitions than individual ones. That is their weak point; everyone wants to take credit for himself. United they will be much stronger.
InfoHub: How can the Disabled People’s Organisations movement in Senegal benefit from the new mechanisms and regional forums such as AUDA5 and ADF6?
Aissatou Cisse: The current president of the Federation7 is the executive director of the AUDA. Had they been more organised as I was saying earlier, they would be better able to protect their interests, to work for the different programs: for instance, NEPAD8 has many components that can benefit DPOs especially regarding infrastructure. In order for infrastructure requirements to meet standards, we need to have strong federations, strong organisations sitting at the NEPAD table to provide good guidance on the matter. They should also have a say on matters of agro-business, handicrafts and trade. Had they been better organised today, they would have their platform and everyone would be taking into account DPOs to achieve the economic success that is moving Africa. That is why I often call upon DPOs to better organise and better manage their full participation in the social world, the economic world as well as the cultural world.
InfoHub: Can you briefly tell us what you think is the way forward for better advancing the rights of children with disabilities in Senegal? And in the sub-region? / How do you envision the situation of children with disabilities 5 years from now?
Aissatou Cisse: African states should have common policies to eliminate social disparities, discrimination and put in place strong policies for integration, empowerment as well as social inclusion. When African states discuss social inclusion, they are often referring to women and the youth but alongside these women and young people, there are very vulnerable people with limited mobility who are not mentioned. As long as States are not putting forward the interests of people with disabilities, I assure you, African states will keep on having deficits in their economies because they are forced to continuously provide for persons with disabilities instead of creating mechanisms that will enable them in turn to study, work and participate in the economic development of each nation. And that is also why the WAMU, in the case of West Africa, has a very important and urgent role to play in it. The WAMU should support the programs of federations of DPOs through AUDA. The AUDA must be in the WAMU and must participate in working sessions of WAMU, in order to bring the voice of people with disabilities to that level. But as long as there are policies that leave behind people with disabilities.
InfoHub: Thank you very much, Mrs. Aissatou Cisse, for doing this interview with us.
Reminder: This interview was conducted in February 2015.
- Decree 1038 of October 2 on the installation of departmental technical committees: 1) for the issuance of the equal opportunity card 2) for the institution of special education. The decree includes several items and articles of the Social Orientation Law.
- “Centre de Formation des Déficients Intellectuels”
- “Etablissement Spécialisé Technique d'Expression et de Loisirs” (Specialised Technical Establishment for Expression and Recreation)
- United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by Senegal on September 7, 2010
- African Union Disability Architecture
- African Disability Forum
- Federation of Disabled People's Organisations
- New Partnership for Africa's Development