by DAN PARTON (EDITOR) on JULY 19, 2012


Children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to suffer violence compared to their non-disabled peers, a multi-national study has found.


The research, by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and published in medical journal The Lancet, found that children with disabilities are 3.7 times more likely than non-disabled children to be victims of any sort of violence. In addition, they are 3.6 times more likely to be victims of physical violence and 2.9 times more likely to experience sexual violence.


Children with disabilities associated with mental illness or intellectual impairments appear to be among the most vulnerable, being at 4.6 times the risk of sexual violence compared to their non-disabled peers.


WHO’s research found that stigma, discrimination and ignorance about disability were factors in the higher risk of violence, 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. In these settings and elsewhere, children with communication impairments are hampered in their ability to disclose abusive experiences.


“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,” said Dr Etienne Krug, director of WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability. “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.”


WHO’s research included 17 studies, with data from 18,374 children with disabilities from high-income countries – Finland, France, Israel, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the United States.


“The impact of a child’s disability on their quality of life is very much dependent on the way other individuals treat them,” said Dr 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.”