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Disabled Children at Higher Risk of Physical and Sexual Violence

Update Date: Jul 12, 2012 09:16 AM EDT

A recent study reveals that disabled children are highly prone to violence and sexual abuse.

In a report, one-in-four disabled children are found to be a victim of some form of violence during their lifetime.

Researchers from the United Kingdom have found that for children who are disabled, the risk of undergoing physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect is around four times more than those who are not disabled.

"The impact of a child's disability on their quality of life is very much dependent on the way other individuals treat them," one of the study authors, Mark Bellis of Liverpool John Moores University in England, said in a journal news release, according to Health Day.

"This research establishes that the risk of violence to children with disabilities is routinely three to four times higher than that of nondisabled children. It is the duty of government and civil society to ensure that such victimization is exposed and prevented," Bellis said. Researchers analyzed 17 previous studies involving more than 18,000 children from the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Spain and Israel for the study. The children were mostly aged between 2 years and 18 years.

The study results revealed that almost 27 percent of the disabled children underwent physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect. The authors also noted that physical and sexual abuse encountered by them in their whole life was high (20 percent and 14 percent, respectively).

Researchers said that the estimated risk of disabled children being abused physically and sexualy was three times more than children without disabilities.

The research also revealed that children with mental or intellectual disabilities are prone to falling victim of sexual abuse than those with some other kind of disability. But then, there also wasn't enough evidence or information to determine the risk for exposure to sexual violence of children with other types of disabilities, they pointed out, according to the report.

"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 the World Health Organization's department of violence and injury prevention and disability, in the news release. . 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," 

The authors also pointed out that children living in developing nations were at higher risk of facing violence.

"Estimates are missing for most regions of the world, particularly low-income and middle-income countries. This is a fundamental gap that needs to be addressed because these countries generally have higher population rates of disability, higher levels of violence and fewer support services than do high-income countries," explained Bellis.

"Researchers need to target under-represented disability groups . . . [to] provide a clear picture of the interactions between the type of disability and risk for violence and maltreatment. Future research should seek to strengthen our knowledge through rigorous studies with diverse populations, both in terms of nationality and type of disability," Emily Lund and Jessica Vaughn-Jensen from Texas A&M University, concluded in the news release.

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