UNITED NATIONS, March 21 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called for intensifying efforts to empower persons with Down syndrome, who often face stigma and segregation, physical and psychological abuse, and lack of equal opportunities.
"Discrimination against persons with Down syndrome and their families exists on many levels. This hurts not only individuals who are directly affected, but whole societies," the secretary- general said in his message for World Down Syndrome Day, observed annually on March 21.
Down syndrome is caused by extra genetic material in chromosome 21. It affects mental and physical development and can also lead to conditions including heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and leukaemia.
On World Down Syndrome Day, people with Down syndrome and those who live and work with them throughout the world organize and participate in activities and events to raise public awareness and create a single global voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion and well being of people with Down syndrome.
On Dec. 19, 2011, the UN General Assembly declared March 21 as World Down Syndrome Day, which was first observed in 2006 in many countries around the world.
According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the estimated incidence of Down syndrome is between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 1,100 live births worldwide, and each year approximately 3,000 to 5,000 children are born with this chromosome disorder.
Ban said a "vicious circle of exclusion" can begin early in life as many children with Down syndrome are denied access to mainstream education -- or any education at all.
In working life, stereotypes against persons with Down syndrome often mean they are denied vocational training opportunities and their right to work, Ban said.
In the political and public sphere, persons with Down syndrome and other persons with intellectual disabilities are often deprived of the right to vote and fully participate in the democratic process, he said.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reaffirms that such persons, including those with Down syndrome, are entitled to human rights on an equal basis with others.
On Sept. 23, the UN General Assembly will convene a High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development to ensure that the perspectives of persons with disabilities are included in all future development plans.
"Given the appropriate support and opportunity, all individuals living with Down syndrome can achieve their potential, realize their human rights on an equal basis with others and make an important contribution to society," Ban said.
"We must, therefore, intensify our efforts to create conditions of empowerment that allow meaningful participation of persons with Down syndrome," he said.