Despite the enactment of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, people and children living with Down syndrome and other disabilities are denied access to education and healthcare services. They also suffer discrimination and other forms of stigmatisation, which run against the intendment of the aforementioned law.

The 2018 law prohibits discrimination against anyone on the basis of disability. Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly must ensure that the law against the discrimination of person with disabilities is strictly enforced across the country. We call on the relevant government agencies to sensitise the public about the provisions of the Act as well as the need to ensure compliance. Doing so will largely curb the discrimination against people with disability.

Ensuring adequate care for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities and the plight of children with special needs dominated this year’s discussions and activities during the marking of this year’s World Down Syndrome Day. The World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated on March 21, every year, across the world to highlight the peculiar challenges faced by people living with the condition and how government and the society could help to mitigate their plight.

The theme for this year’s event is “With Us, Not For Us”, an indication that people living with Down Syndrome, as other humans, have inalienable rights, and should be involved in decision making process on things that affect them in the family, work place, government institutions and in the society at large, rather than making decisions and choices for them as though their opinions and preferences, do not matter.

According to Mrs. Duma Edward-Dibiana a special educator, an advocate for the rights of children with special needs and a mother of a child with Down syndrome, the important takeaway from this year’s World Down Syndrome Day message is that persons living with Down syndrome need the freedom and the support of all to make their own choices and be embraced, accepted and not seen as people incapable of making their own decisions. It means that decisions about issues concerning them should not be made behind them without their input.

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Down syndrome (or Trisomy 21), the experts say, is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. People living with the syndrome are often impacted by diverse health challenges, including internal organ defects and intellectual disability. Researchers are of the view that Down syndrome is the most common identifiable cause of intellectual disability in the world. It is not yet known why this syndrome occurs, but Down syndrome has always been a part of the human condition. It exists in all regions across the globe and commonly results in variable effects on learning styles, physical characteristics and health. The estimated incidence of Down syndrome is between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 1,100 live births worldwide. Each year, approximately 3,000 to 5,000 children are born with this chromosome disorder.

However, Down syndrome is not a death sentence. Individuals with the condition can be encouraged to achieve optimal quality of life through adequate parental care and support, medical guidance, and community-based support systems such as inclusive education at all levels. This will facilitate their participation in mainstream society and the fulfillment of their personal potential.

In Nigeria, there are still obstacles for children living with Down syndrome and other special needs to maximise their potential. With limited access to proper education, either formal or informal, and healthcare resources, they are hindered from contributing meaningfully to the society. In some cases, children living with special needs are made to pay extra fees, higher than those paid by their peers in the same class, just for them to have access to education, in violation of the provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act. They also suffer discrimination, stigmatisation, prejudices and subtle or outright rejection at work or public places.

People living with Down syndrome and other special needs have innate abilities that need to be harnessed. Rather than pitying them, they need conducive atmosphere to flourish. Government should make deliberate efforts to provide quality and inclusive education for children living with Down syndrome and others with special needs to enable them improve their self-esteem, independence and overall usefulness to themselves and the society.

They need inclusive education, which guarantees them equal access and opportunities to education and resources that accommodate their individual needs. There is need to modify classroom practices meant for the typical child to accommodate those with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Let the government, especially the incoming administration, take bold steps to protect the rights of children living with Down syndrome and other disabilities by ensuring strict enforcement of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, and any other laws that safeguard their interests. Children with Down syndrome are not abnormal and should not be discriminated against.