Disabled students face exclusion in China: rights group

Millions of Chinese students with disabilities are being deprived of education due to pervasive barriers and a failure to devote resources, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

Students walk in the rain before sitting the 2013 university entrance exam in Hefei, north China's Anhui province on June 7, 2013. Millions of Chinese students with disabilities are being deprived of education due to pervasive barriers and a failure to devote resources, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

In a study based on 62 interviews conducted around China, the New York-based advocacy group said few children with disabilities were able to pursue school into their teenage years.

The report credited China with some progress, including making commitments when it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, but it said more needed to be done.

"For children with mild disabilities in mainstream schools, there are still real challenges. But our biggest concern is that children with more severe disabilities are in essence excluded from education entirely," said Sophie Richardson, the group's China director.

Richardson acknowledged that people with disabilities face obstacles throughout the world but said China had several unique barriers.

China requires physical examinations for university admittance, which force applicants to declare any disabilities, she said.

China also makes little effort to accommodate students with visual or hearing impairments when they take the all-important national exam known as the gaokao, she said.

The report said China has developed some well-resourced schools for special education but students are rarely given options of pursuing mainstream careers.

Human Rights Watch quoted official statistics saying 28 percent of children with disabilities were not receiving an education, despite China's vaunted record of providing virtually universal education to the nation of 1.3 billion people.

"I think governments that are able to have a space program and are the second largest economy in the world probably have at their disposal the kinds of resources that are necessary to help fix some of these problems," Richardson said.

She said China's official statistics put the country's population with disabilities at 83 million, including both adults and young people.

But she said that the figure would be more than twice as high if using the World Bank's estimate of 15 percent of every nation having disabilities.

Human Rights Watch recommended China revise regulations and develop a time-bound plan to bring children with disabilities into the mainstream.

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