DUBAI // A walkathon was held on Friday in a shopping centre to raise awareness of the rights of people with Down syndrome.
Almost 1,000 people marked World Down Syndrome Day at Dubai Mall with a walk led by Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.
Sonia Alhashimi, chairwoman of the UAE Down Syndrome Association, said the aim was to challenge attitudes and encourage inclusion.
“We prefer to do the walkathon in a public place, a busy mall on a busy day on the weekend,” she said. “It’s to attract people’s attention. We want to spread awareness in order to improve acceptance. They have a right to a place in the community.”
There are no official figures for the number of people with the condition in the country, but international averages suggest that about one child in 800 is born with Down syndrome.
Ms Alhashimi said the figure in the Emirates was one in 319.
World Down Syndrome Day champions equal rights for people with the condition. It is held on 21st day of the third month, symbolising the triplication of the 21st chromosome, which is what causes the condition.
May Zalat, from Egypt, who is the mother of a four-month-old boy with the disability, said that although there was a federal law to strengthen the rights of special-needs children, there were often challenges with its enforcement.
“Here in the UAE they have a law about special needs, and it is a very good one,” she said.
“But the schools and nurseries, they don’t follow this law. That’s the problem we’re facing. It should be more strict, so they have to follow these laws.
“Some people do not accept a Down syndrome child. But he is unique, like any other child.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, issued a law last week stating “authorities in the emirate must provide disabled people with health-care services and educational opportunities that are equal to those received by other residents”.
Ms Alhashimi said it was a sign of positive change.
“The UAE is one of the best places in the region for people with Down syndrome, and although there are challenges in raising awareness, particularly in places of employment, the government has made huge steps in doing this,” she said.