Attitudes towards children with Down Syndrome in Libya have changed markedly. Shahd attends a mainstream school, has a wide circle of friends, and has found fame with her photography.

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The new Libyan government has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but the gap between the articles of the Convention and practical reality for people on the ground can seem large. Although, even under Muammar Gaddafi, laws were in place in Libya protecting the rights of people with disabilities, and traditional values held that they be treated with respect, the prevailing attitude in many communities is still that disabled people are a burden and ought to be hidden away. Slowly, though, that seems to be changing. Perhaps the most positive development is not only in acknowledging that people with disabilities have rights, but in realizing an individual’s potential.

Attitudes towards children with Down syndrome have changed markedly, largely through the work of organizations such as the Libyan Down Syndrome Association, which aims not only at raising awareness about the condition, but at encouraging parents to realize their children’s potential for development. In 2000, only 10 percent of families were estimated to acknowledgethis potential, today the figure stands at 55 percent. Over the same period, the number of children with Down syndrome enrolled in a mainstream class at a public school has risen from one to nearly 100, across five different schools. Similarly, numbers of Down syndrome children in daycare centers has risen from one in a private class in 1992, through partial integration, to full inclusion of 80 children in four different daycare centers.

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