One In Three Disabled Children Have Experienced Violence

Children with mental and developmental disabilities were more likely to experience violence, reveals a review study by researchers in China and around the world.

AsianScientist (Apr. 13, 2022) —Violence against children and adolescents negatively impact their health and well-being worldwide. About one billion children and adolescents aged between 2 and 17 years experienced some form of violence or neglect in 2019 as reported by the World Health Organization in 2020. But children with disabilities are at an even higher risk of experiencing violence, shows a recent systematic review and meta-analysis conducted by researchers from China, the United States and the United Kingdom. Published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, the review provides deep insight into the prevalence of different forms of violence against children with disabilities compared to non-disabled children.

The team co-led by Dr Zuyi Fang from the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Beijing Normal University analyzed data from 98 studies across 21 databases (18 English-language, three Chinese) to give an updated picture of violence against children with disabilities, with the data spanning from 1990 to 2020.

These studies came from high and upper-middle income countries (the US, the UK, China, Australia), and low to lower-middle income countries (Uganda, Iran, Lebanon) to provide a comprehensive look at the relationship between disability and the likelihood of experiencing violence. “Research conducted in 2010 showed that children with disabilities were much more likely to experience violence than their non-disabled peers,” Fang told the Asian Scientist. The review, published in 2012, only looked at databases from high-income countries, which was not truly representative of the situation worldwide. “We wanted to know if during the [next] decade the extent of the issue has been changing.”

Analysis of the datasets used several criteria. For example, the forms of violence ranged from physical, emotional or psychological, to sexual, and the perpetrators included caregivers, authority figures, peers, and intimate partners. There was no restriction on the type of disability included in the analysis: all physical, mental, developmental disabilities and chronic illnesses were considered.

Fang and colleagues found that approximately one in three disabled children faced violence, and children with mental and developmental disabilities were more likely to experience violence. This was a larger estimate compared to the previous review, which stated that approximately one quarter of disabled children in high-income countries experienced a form of violence compared to their non-disabled peers.

The most common form of violence perpetrated against them was emotional or psychological violence (36%), followed by physical violence (32%). The most common perpetrator were the peers of children with disabilities, accounting for almost 38% of cases. In a majority of these cases, the children experienced more physical bullying than cyberbullying.

Fang and colleagues also noted that disabled children from lower-middle income countries would experience more instances of violence against them compared to disabled children from upper-middle and high income countries. When asked about some of the reasons behind this finding, Fang said that this could be due to “insufficient local services to protect them from violence, for example, limited social protection expenditure and absence of legal framework”. This means that children from lower-middle income countries are unable to easily access additional help such as proper legal protection, which can help them escape their situation and prevent them from further harm.

Fang hopes that the review will help build the calls for the collaborative action by political leaders, practitioners and researchers to provide violence prevention, protection, and support services to the children with disabilities, using inter-disciplinary and inter-sector partnerships to establish strategies that target those living in low-resource settings. She also plans on updating the review periodically, including more databases from Asian countries and different languages such as Thai and Bahasa.

“We would like to understand the nature of this issue in more parts of Asia. Next time, we will need to involve reviewers who speak other Asian languages so more data from those areas can be included,” said Fang.

The article can be found at Fang et al. (2022) Global Estimates of Violence Against Children with Disabilities: an Updated Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.

Source: Beijing Normal University; Photo: Shutterstock.

Hannan is a science writer with an interest in telling stories about science and the people behind it. She graduated with a degree in biochemistry from the University of Nottingham.

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