MOROCCO

Moroccan town’s disabled kids deprived of support centre

For two weeks now, about 60 disabled children in the Moroccan city of Jerada haven’t been able to go to their only local support centre, after a dispute broke out between the centre’s managers. The incident has shed light on the fragile network of support available for disabled minors in the kingdom.

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Screen grab from a video of a protest march of handicapped childrens' families. They walked to Jerada, Morocco.

Around 60 disabled children in the Moroccan city of Jerada have been prevented from going to their only local support centre for the past two weeks, after a dispute broke out between the centre’s managers. The incident has shed light on the fragile network of support available for disabled minors in the kingdom.

The centre for disabled people in the city of Jerada, in eastern Morocco, provides three classes for adults and two for children under the age of 16. But at the beginning of June, Jerada’s delegate for National Mutual Aid [Editor’s note: The body is linked to the country’s Ministry for Family and Social Development] ordered both children’s classes to be cancelled, on the grounds of a dispute with the teacher who runs them. Before the parents had even been notified, the classes were cancelled.

According to one mother, “we went there at around 8:30am like we do every day. And we were surprised to see that the locks had been changed. The director just told us that the teacher no longer had the right to give classes here.”

Families decided to walk to Oujda to protest against the classes' closure. However, their march was interrupted by police officers, who asked them to turn back. 

The families decided to head on foot to Oujda – a town around sixty kilometres away - to protest against the classes' cancellation. But on the way there they were stopped by police who ordered them to turn back. So the outraged families held a sit-in in front of the centre. Then a few days later, they headed back to Oujda to try to bring their plight to the attention of the National Mutual Aid’s regional office. But the protest didn't meet with any success.

According to the families that FRANCE 24 has contacted, there have been no classes for the past two weeks. Some parents whose children have been taught by the teacher, Fatima Boumansour, for several years said they would not return to the support centre if she is prevented from teaching.

Video of the march. 

Rabia, whose daughter has Down's Syndrome, is one of those parents.

This teacher has looked after my daughter since 2003. She was three years old when I started taking her to the teacher’s house. At the time, she looked after the children at her home because there was no centre for them yet. My daughter is now a teenager. She became really close to her, which is normal after so many years. That’s why I think it’s so wrong that they threw her out the door overnight, without even considering the children’s needs.

FRANCE 24 contacted Othmani al-Arbi, the regional coordinator for National Mutual Aid in Oujda, who oversees the centre:

“The teacher doesn’t get on with Jerada’s National Mutual Aid representative. These things happen. He decided to dismiss her and that’s his right, all the more given that she doesn’t have a contract with the centre. The children will still be able to take classes. But first management needs to bring in new teachers.”

"I haven’t got anywhere to take her"

In any case, the dispute has laid bare the inadequacy of facilities for people with disabilities, as Fatima – the older sister of a girl with Down’s Syndrome – explains:

This centre is the only support centre that exists in Jerada. It’s been horrible since it was closed, because I already look after my dad who has diabetes and now I have to look after my sister. It’s not very pleasant because she has to stay shut in the house all day. On top of that, there are no services for disabled children in normal schools. As a result, I haven’t got anywhere to take her.

My family doesn’t even receive any allowance from the government to help with her condition. Only a few local NGOs help us, by giving us clothes, food and toys. For several years we’ve been asking the authorities to provide us with a bus specially adapted to transport handicapped children to the support centre. The authorities have promised us on several occasions that they would give us one. But we’re still waiting. I had to take the bus four times throughout the day to accompany my little sister, one round trip in the morning, and another in the evening. That takes up half the day.

The last investigation into the living conditions of people with disabilities in Morocco and their education was carried out in 2004. UNICEF bemoaned a “lack of up-to-date, precise data on the education of disabled children” in a recent press release. The UN agency added that an “analysis of the current situation must serve as the basis of a strategy that will be developed to assure these children’s right to a decent education".

According to the investigation carried out in 2004, two out of three disabled children don’t go to school. It reported that while 96% of non-disabled children receive an education, that figure slumps to a dismal 32.4% for children with disabilities.