Many families in Mauritania hide their handicapped children, barring them from social activities for fear they will be mocked or exposed to awkward situations.
This attitude has led to a general tendency to avoid handicapped people in the country, whether in everyday situations, education, jobs or marriage.
Researcher Mahmoud Ould Lemrabet said that marginalizing the handicapped is against the principles of social justice upon which Mauritanian society is supposedly based, he adds that it is also against religious teachings.
“This attitude towards the handicapped is mainly driven by shame as well as ignorance of the rights of handicapped people and the services they can offer to their community,” he told Al Arabiya.
Lemrabet said that some families even go as far as to leave their handicapped child in the custody of relatives living in remote villages.
“These families need to be held accountable for the wrong they do to their children, and rights organizations have to work hard to expose such practices.”
Lembrabet believes the initial shock that families get when they realize their child’s condition is a reflection of how they will come to treat the child as they grow older.
“They are so shocked that they can’t think straight and the first reaction is hiding and secluding this child,” he explained.
For this reason, families must be educated as to the correct manner of dealing with handicapped children.
“They need to know all the medical, educational, and social options available and they also need to realize the negative impact their cruelty would have on the child.”
Lambrabet believes this forced isolation of handicapped children is facilitated by the culture in Mauritania, and as it is imperative that awareness campaigns, promoting the proper treatment of handicapped children, be targeted at the entire society.
“Special attention needs to be given to handicapped females who are more marginalized than their male counterparts,” he adds.
About 7 percent of the Mauritanian population is handicapped, with women constituting the majority.
Handicapped women receive fewer opportunities in education, employment, marriage, and financial independence than handicapped men.
Misconceptions about handicapped people have also led to the increased marginalization of girls, as families see that a handicapped daughter will negatively affect the marriage prospects of her female relatives.