We are presently in a time of change in South Africa, with an influx of topical issues broadcast on news bulletins, social media and talk shows. One thinks of insufficient schools and crowded classrooms with insufficient space and resources to accommodate the vast numbers of small children requiring an education; the high cost of education, a basic human right, which at best results inadequate or incomplete education, and at worst, excludes many young people; extreme poverty and appalling living conditions; domestic and sexual abuse; high unemployment figures, making it difficult if not impossible for the bread winner to provide for the family and lift themselves out of their situation.
Amongst all of these issues, I would like to focus on two in particular – the very recent rise of gangsterism and substance abuse amongst the youth.
Gangsterism in particular has seen a renewed resurgence in communities on the Cape Flats in Cape Town. It is widely recognised that these are caused by social ills like those listed above, which only adds to the bleak future facing the youth in these situations. As in any community, young people want to fit in and know that they belong. Those with no family or who have been abused or neglected, will look elsewhere for the care of a family unit. Sometimes that comes in the form of a gang. And if being a member of the gang means using or pushing drugs, then so be it.
Rival gangs have no qualms about becoming violent in residential areas, nor do they seem to care who gets in their way, with subsequent news articles reporting on the number of civilian deaths resulting from gang violence.
So… what has this got to do with disability?
Well, young people with disabilities struggle with the same issues as typical young people, be it a need for education, employment, family life, recognition and so on. The same challenges that face any typical teenager and young adult will also face the young person with a disability, only more so. They are also susceptible to being coerced into using drugs or alcohol, or perhaps used as a pawn in gang-related activities, not to mention those who have sustained a disability as a result of either of these!
Young girls with disabilities face an even greater fear – sexual abuse. Young girls and women with disabilities are more likely to experience sexual abuse and rape as their non-disabled peers. The tremendous stigma surrounding disability also plays a role in that girls with disabilities are regarded as non-sexual, not worthy or capable of giving or receiving love.
Take a moment to think about it. Select any of the issues highlighted above and add disability into that context. Poverty, for example. A typical family with 1 or 2 children may not seem to us to be a scenario for poverty. However, take employment away from the bread winner, add in a child or young adult with a disability who perhaps requires care during the day meaning that the 2nd parent, if there was one in the first place, is forced to remain at home to care for the child, and you instantly have a household with no income, several mouths to feed and bodies to clothe, extra costs arising from the child’s disability and little to no chance of education for that child, not to mention the emotional fallout for the entire family which many times causes the family unit to break apart. Abject poverty is simply waiting in the wings.
This situation seems completely hopeless with no real solution. Ironically, Mercer’s 19th Annual Quality of Living survey, reflects 3 of South Africa’s cities that fall into the top 100 cities in the world ranked for their highest quality of life. What does that help us when we have communities in distress who do not experience much quality of living?
Perhaps by creating or becoming a beacon of hope amongst the challenges faced by our youth, including those with disabilities, they may not feel the need to fall into these social traps.
In no way am I condoning the use of substances to dull the experience of everyday life! I am simply pointing out that youth with disabilities face the same issues as those without disabilities, often to a greater degree.
Think on that.