Children with disabilities more likely to face violence, says UN-backed study

Children at a disability centre in Hargesia, capital of Somaliland. Photo: IRIN/Jane Some

12 July 2012 – Children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than those without disabilities, according to a review commissioned by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) that calls for urgent action to protect the rights of this vulnerable group.

Findings from the review, published today in the medical journal The Lancet, indicate that children with disabilities are 3.7 times more likely those without disabilities to be victims of any sort of violence. They are also 3.6 times more likely to be victims of physical violence, and 2.9 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence.

Children with disability associated with mental illness or intellectual impairments appear to be among the most vulnerable, with 4.6 times the risk of sexual violence compared with their peers who do not have disabilities.

“The results of this review prove that children with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to violence, and their needs have been neglected for far too long,” noted the Director of WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability, Etienne Krug, in a news release on the review.

“We know that specific strategies exist to prevent violence and mitigate its consequences. We now need to determine if these also work for children with disabilities. An agenda needs to be set for action,” added Dr. Krug.

Some of the factors which place children with disabilities at higher risk of violence include stigma, discrimination, and ignorance about disability, as well as a lack of social support for those who care for them.

Placing children with disabilities in institutions also increases their vulnerability to violence, according to the review, which provides the strongest available evidence on violence against children with disabilities.

The 17 studies included in the review reflect data from 18,374 children with disabilities from high-income countries – Finland, France, Israel, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States – underscoring the urgent need for high-quality research in low-income and middle-income countries.

“The impact of a child’s disability on their quality of life is very much dependent on the way other individuals treat them,” stressed Mark Bellis, Director of the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, a WHO Collaborating Centre for Violence Prevention, and lead researcher on the review.

“It is the duty of government and civil society to ensure that such victimization is exposed and prevented,” he added.

Certain nurse home visiting programmes for children at risk of violence and training to improve parenting skills have been shown to work to prevent violence against non-disabled children. These and other measures outlined in WHO’s Preventing child maltreatment and Violence prevention: the evidence should be implemented for children with disabilities, and their effectiveness evaluated, stated the news release.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the same human rights as everyone else, stipulates that children with disabilities should be protected against all forms of discrimination, and that they should have access to education, health services and protection from violence.


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