President Stevo Pendarovski held Embla Ademi’s hand as he walked her to her elementary school in the city of Gostivar on Monday.
Embla has experienced bullying at school due as a result of having Down syndrome — a genetic condition that causes learning disabilities, health problems and distinctive facial characteristics — a spokesperson for the President’s office told CNN.
Pendarovski “talked to Embla’s parents about the challenges she and her family face on a daily basis,” and discussed solutions, his office said in a press release.
“The President said that the behavior of those who endanger children’s rights is unacceptable, especially when it comes to children with atypical development,” the statement said.
“They should not only enjoy the rights they deserve, but also feel equal and welcome in the school desks and schoolyard. It is our obligation, as a state, but also as individuals, and the key element in this common mission is empathy.”
“It will help children like Embla, but it will also help us learn from them how to sincerely rejoice, share and be in solidarity,” the president added.”
He is also seen waving the 11-year-old off at the school gate as she walks into the building.
“We are all equal in this society. I came here to give my support and to raise awareness that inclusion is a basic principle”, the press release quoted Pendarovski as saying.
The President said he “encouraged and supported” Embla’s parents in their fight for the protection of the rights of children like their daughter.
“Prejudices in that context are the main obstacle to building an equal and just society for all,” Pendarovski said, according to the press release.
He also stressed there was “a legal and moral obligation to provide inclusive education, in which the main focus is on developing skills and abilities in children with different developmental processes” and emphasized the need to raise public awareness of the issue.
Once part of Yugoslavia, North Macedonia is a small landlocked country in southeastern Europe with a population of around 2 million.