Language Deprivation is a cruel and harsh reality for many deaf children. In the UK, 4 babies are born deaf each day, with 90% of these born to hearing parents with little to no knowledge of sign languages (NDCS).
When deaf children are not able to fully access either signed or spoken language they are faced with many lasting effects. ‘Cognitive delays, mental health challenges, lower quality of life, higher trauma, and limited health literacy’ are just a few of these, with evidence suggesting ‘permanent brain changes’ when children are not able to access any language fully during their critical early years (Hall, 2017).
With access to sign language from the start Deaf children can thrive. I. King Jordan once famously stated ‘Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear’, however, when children are not afforded the basic human right of language, they are not able to fulfil their individual potential.
The rights of deaf children to signed language are not explicitly stated, and many people, including hearing parents, are not ever made aware of these concerns. The UN Rights of the Child (Article 19) explicitly state many examples of neglect, yet language deprivation is not mentioned once. The vital significance of signed communication is thus continuing to go unknown by many officials, parents and schools, and Deaf children are falling behind.
The Rights of the Child are thorough, sound, and undoubtedly beneficial. This cannot be denied. They are lacking in one key area, however – the Right to Language. Therefore, I present two calls to action:
1- Broaden or develop the Rights of the Child to include the Right to Language.
2- Broaden the description of ‘neglect’ as present in the Rights of the Child Article 19 documentation to include, explicitly, language deprivation.
Taking these steps will help to ensure that no Deaf child is left behind.
It is not simply desirable to see these changes – it is necessary. In 2021, it is surely embarrassingly negligent to continually overlook Deaf children in this manner. Where their right to language is overlooked, as it currently is for all children with no explicit documentation on the matter, the basis for support on a local level is non-existent. Movement from the bottom up must occur; change, support, and awareness from within UN Nation States and pressure from these spaces ensuring that no Deaf children are left in a life of silence simply by fact of birth.