How can we work together with children to address the specific vulnerabilities of children with disabilities?

December 2014

Today we celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
As the International Disability Alliance (IDA) points out, “there is much to celebrate on this year’s international day of persons with disabilities. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) continues to gain in ratifications as one of the fastest accepted human rights instruments, today counting 151 States Parties. The rights of persons with disabilities remains visible on the agenda of the international community with the creation of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities within the UN Human Rights Council whose mandate officially began on 1 December, not to mention the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility whose first anniversary is imminent. While joining in the celebration of these achievements, IDA calls for strengthened engagement on the rights of women and girls with disabilities who continue to be left behind in the realm of both women’s rights and disability rights.”

In addition to IDA’s call to strengthen engagement with the rights of women and girls with disabilities, Child to Child would like to call attention to the need to urgently address the particular vulnerabilities of children with disabilities. A recent UNICEF report on violence against children – Hidden in Plain Sight – overlooks the specific issues faced by children with disabilities due to the lack of good quality data.

A group of friends from our Inclusive Education project in Uganda.

A group of friends from our Inclusive Education project in Uganda.

In September the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, released a new report on violence against children. It is a comprehensive report which sheds light on this often hidden violence.

The report* recognises that children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to physical violence. It also recognises that they are likely to be placed in state-run institutions where they are more vulnerable to abuse and harm. Apart from these two points, the report does not address the particular issues faced by children with disabilities because of the paucity of available data.

There is an urgent need to carry out research to better understand the vulnerabilities of children with disabilities.

Despite the lack of evidence, it is commonly accepted that children are more vulnerable to violence than adults and that children with disabilities are amongst the most vulnerable populations of children globally.

Although it is very difficult to be sure of the precise levels of violence against children with disabilities, studies over the years have consistently shown that children with disabilities are three to four times more likely than non-disabled children to be victims of any sort of violence.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this violence is the result of stigma, discrimination and ignorance about disability.

Recently, in the first quantitative study on the subject, conducted in Uganda, a group of experts from the International Centre for Evidence in Disability (ICED) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found out that girls with disabilities experience more physical and sexual violence than girls without disabilities.

They analysed the results from a sample of 3,706 children and young adolescents aged 11-14, of which 8.8% of boys and 7.6% of girls reported a disability. The experts state, “Disabled girls report slightly more physical (99.1% vs 94.6%) and considerably more sexual violence (23.6% vs 12.3%) than non-disabled girls.” There was a smaller differential in the boys’ statistics. However the data is very nuanced. For instance, the authors of the research point out that, “staff were less likely to be physically violent towards disabled boys in the past week, but more likely to be emotionally violent or neglectful.”

All children have the potential to put an end to discrimination and violence against children with disabilities

Children – with or without disabilities – are key to support children with disabilities by including them. A Child to Child initiative on autism, currently being delivered in Chicago, has taught us the capacity of children to address social integration issues – such as bullying at school – by working together.

We also know from an ongoing inclusive education Child to Child programme in Northern Uganda that children help empower one another. One young people with disabilities, who is part of the twinning programme with a child without disability, declared: “He reads the billboard for me, we play games; he is my guide, I love my friend!” This change towards acceptance of and care for children with disabilities led to a significant increase in the number of them enrolled at school – from 24 in 2013 to 84 in 2014.

We witnessed the power of such support and acceptance at CATS 2014, our annual international conference on children’s participation. Lumos brought a delegation of children and young people with intellectual disabilities. They shared their enthusiasm and pleasure at being equally considered alongside the other participants.

Currently, Child to Child is in the early stages of a collaboration with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Our intention is to adapt Child to Child approaches to support children with disabilities and their caregivers so that they are better able to respond to violence in Malawi. Building on research carried out by the International Centre for Evidence in Disability (ICED), the first stage of this project will be to work with children and communities to better understand the issues and to collaborate with them on the design of a Child to Child programme intended to address their needs. We look forward to reporting back over the forthcoming months about the development of this initiative. Watch this space!



*To produce it, UNICEF conducted participatory research, directly asking children and young people to share their experiences of violence. Click here to read the report, which is comprised of two parts:

  1. Hidden in Plain Sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children
  2. Ending Violence Against Children: Six Strategies for Action