REPORT: Violence Against Disabled Children

Posted on 8 March 2008. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Children, Cross-Disability, Human Rights, Reports, Resources, Violence | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

UNICEF has released a summary report entitled, “Violence Against Disabled Children” (PDF format 245 Kb), with the subtitle “UN Secretary Generals Report on Violence against Children, Thematic Group on Violence against Disabled Children, Findings and Recommendations.”

The first half of this report, released in July 2005, summarizes what is known about violence toward children with disabilities at home, in schools, in institutions, in the criminal justice system, within the broader community, and at work (in child labor situations). Children with disabilities are known to be at higher risk for abuse, partly because they may be perceived as “easy victims.” Also, abuse toward disabled children is less likely to be investigated or persecuted, which means abusers know it is easier to escape consequences even if the abuse is discovered.

Many children, with or without disabilities, may face adults who fail to listen or to believe them when they try to report abuse. But children with disabilities face additional barriers. As one example, some adults may mistakenly assume that a child with intellectual disabilities or psycho-social disabilities must surely be “confused,” or unable to tell right from wrong, or unable to make their own decisions about what is done to their bodies.

Disabled children may also be targeted for child murder, either because parents perceive them as bringing shame to the family or because adults may be convinced they will be “better off” dead than disabled. In countries where many men share the belief that sex with a virgin will “cleanse” them of HIV/AIDS, girls, boys, and adults with disabilities may be targeted for rape on the assumption that they do not have sex. Children with disabilities also may be forcibly sterilized, sometimes as early as the age of 8 or 9.

The report makes a series of 13 recommendations for families, communities, policy makers, governments, advocates, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) or Civil Society Organizations, United Nations agencies, and other stakeholders with an interest in preventing violence toward disabled children. These recommendations include, as a few examples: increasing public awareness; reforming legislation so that the laws can better protect children with disabilities; advocating change to improve inclusion of disabled people throughout society; improving reporting mechanisms so that people who become aware of abuse have a way to report it; closing down institutions and integrating disabled children into the community; but also improving government oversight of institutions for as long as they continue to exist.

The 33-page report can be downloaded in PDF format (245 Kb) at:

http://www.unicef.org/videoaudio/PDFs/UNICEF_Violence_Against_Disabled_Children_Report_Distributed_Version.pdf

People interested in the topic of violence against children may also wish to read an article on violence and disabled children in the 2003 issue of the joint Rehabilitation International and UNICEF newsletter, One in Ten:

http://riglobal.org/publications2/10_24.htm

Also of possible interest:

A recent report, Promoting the Rights of Children with Disabilities could give ideas to advocates and families for how they can use international human rights laws to protect the rights of children with disabilities.

Learn about a report on human rights abuses of disabled children and adults in Serbia, including the use of violence.

Read a paper on Violence Against Blind and Visually Impaired Girls in Malawi

Those interested in abuse and human rights violations in institutional settings may also wish to read the following first-hand accounts written by the same author, Amanda Baggs. These are well worth reading. Some talk about the more obvious kinds of violence that most people are used to thinking of as “abuse.” Some talk about forms of psychological manipulation that are so subtle that outside observers might miss them. But Amanda Baggs makes powerful arguments for why “outposts in our head,” or the uses of power nevertheless can be at least as important for anyone who cares about the well-being of children (and adults) with disabilities. Click on any title below to see Amanda Bagg’s post:

Why It’s So Hard to Write Directly About My Life
Outposts in Our Heads: The Intangible Horrors of Institutions that Must Not Be Forgotten
The Meaning of Power
Extreme Measures, and Then Some




We Can Do learned about the UNICEF report on violence against disabled children from the AskSource.info database. Asksource.info provides a library of information, resources, and toolkits related to people with disabilities and to health issues, particularly in developing countries.




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3 Responses to “REPORT: Violence Against Disabled Children”

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90% of intellectually disabled are sexually abused? 80% of deaf? This is shocking. Non-abused deaf or intellectually disabled are the minority!

Hi, Ettina–welcome to We Can Do; you may recall me commenting on your blog from time to time.

Although these numbers are horrible, it can be worth remembering that these are apparently from one research study, and we don’t even know all the details of how they chose their sampling size, etc. I would imagine that the numbers would vary widely depending partly on disability, partly on sampling within that disability group, and partly on individual circumstances. For example, I would hypothesize that for a deaf child, having some clear modality for communication at home (either having strong speaking/lipreading skills, or having parents who sign, or a combination of the two) would be somewhat protective in giving a child more inner strength to protest when they feel uncomfortable with what an adult is doing, or at least a way to report what’s happening to their parents.

But, yes, it’s still awful. Even though it is hard to know how “generalizable” the results of any one individual research study is, there has still been enough research done that we can know with a pretty high degree of confidence that children with a wide range of disabilities are at much higher risk than non-disabled children for abuse. Elsewhere in the UNICEF report (which you have now evidently read), it says the risk is estimated to be 1.7 times higher. And children with certain disabilities may well be perceived as being more “vulnerable” (and thus easier to abuse with impunity) than others.

Sadly, in some places, this kind of pervasive abuse may simply be seen as routine. A while ago, I had a classmate who visited a school/institution for people with intellectual disabilities (I forget which country). She found that they regularly sterilized the girls there to “protect” them from pregnancy in the case of rape or sexual abuse. But they apparently did not consider doing anything to stop the abuse itself–for them, sterlization was the answer. She tried to talk to them about the idea of preventing the abuse in the first place but wasn’t sure she even got anywhere with them. :-(

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