Monday, July 16, 2012

In harm's way

Children with disabilities are nearly four times more likely to endure abuse than their non-disabled counterparts, concludes a study commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The study’s results were published on Friday in the Lancet.

According to the report, children with disabilities are 2.9 times more likely to experience sexual violence and 3.6 times more likely to endure physical violence than non-disabled children.

Kids with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities are among the most vulnerable, facing a risk of sexual violence 4.6 times greater than their non-disabled peers. Difficulties with communication often increase the likelihood that children will not be listened to, understood or believed in the event that they report maltreatment.

The study also found that kids living in institutions face a higher risk of abuse than those who live in family homes.

The report is based on data from 17 different existing studies from high income countries like the United States, Sweden, Finland and Israel, among others. Overall, it reflects data from over 18,000 children. Of the children with disabilities studied, 27 per cent overall had experienced some type of violence, including physical or sexual abuse, and emotional neglect.

Researchers say the increased risk of violence results from the stigma, discrimination and lack of knowledge that surround disability. They also point to the dearth of social support for caregivers as a factor.

Those working on the study hope that by exposing and highlighting risk, the research will lead to better care practices and the implementation of more serious abuse prevention strategies for children with disabilities.

They also mention the need for research into abuse rates in mid-to-low-income countries, where rates of disability and chronic illness tend to be higher, and support services are few and far between. Currently, little to no data exists for these areas.

Story by: Megan Jones