Leo Forrest is just over a month old, but already has become a potent symbol of the struggles and discrimination that disabled children endure in Armenia. Whether his story can catalyze changes in public attitudes, however, remains unclear.
Artur Tadevosian gently guided his fingers across the strained neck of a client in a warmly lit office in the Armenian capital Yerevan. He knew exactly where to unwind a knot with pressure-point precision.
Every morning, a soup kitchen in Tbilisi's small southeastern suburban district fills up with people holding white canes in one hand and canvas bags in the other. After waiting in the line for a few minutes, they leave the canteen carrying a loaf of bread and a plastic container full of hot soup.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which former interim President Roza Otunbayeva signed over a year ago, is awaiting ratification by the Kyrgyz parliament. The delay is hindering the vast majority of children with special needs in Kyrgyzstan from gaining increased access to educational opportunities.
Munkhtulga Tseveldorj is successful for a 22 year old. Author of two poetry books, he has a third on the way. He’s a good student in the library management program at the Mongolian Institute of Arts and Culture. And he is one of the very few physically disabled Mongolians working on a university degree.
The academic year is getting underway in Armenia amid efforts by administrators and non-governmental activists to overhaul the way the state’s 24 special-needs schools operate. The reform initiative comes in the aftermath of a sexual abuse scandal at one of the schools in Yerevan.
A school teacher in Armenia who confessed to the repeated sexual abuse of mentally challenged students received to a two-year prison term on May 24. Lawyers for the victims complained that the punishment was too lenient, given the magnitude of the crime.