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Disabilities Put Children at Risk for Harsher Punishment

Update Date: Jul 30, 2013 05:31 PM EDT

Children with disabilities who live in developing counties are at risk for harsher punishment, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at data from nationally representative samples of about 46,000 parents and other caregivers of 2- to 9-year-olds in 17 low- and middle-income countries.

Parents and other caregivers were asked to complete questionnaires about the types of disability their children had.  Researchers said children in the study had cognitive, language, sensory, and motor disabilities. Parents and caregivers were also asked about the types of discipline used, including nonphysical (explaining why something was wrong, giving the child something to do, and taking away privileges), psychological aggression (yelling at the child and calling the child a name), physical discipline (spanking with a hand, hitting on the extremities, shaking, or hitting with an object), and severe physical discipline (hitting on the head, beating with an implement). The parents were also asked whether they believed that physical punishment was necessary to properly raise a child.

The findings revealed that children with disabilities were more likely to have experienced physical and severe physical discipline.  They were also less likely to have experienced only nonphysical discipline, according to the study.

Researchers found that disabilities as well as harsh parenting practices and the belief that corporal punishment is necessary to raise a child properly were more prevalent in counties with lower standards of living.

Researchers said the latest findings are consistent with previous research conducted in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Previous studies found that children in these countries are also at greater risk of harsh punishment than children without disabilities.

"The findings suggest that policies and interventions are needed to work toward the United Nations' goals of ensuring that children with disabilities are protected from harsh physical treatment and abuse," researchers wrote in the study.

Researchers said the findings also show the value of intervention efforts and support services, including educating people about disabilities.

"If parents are better informed about children's disabilities, they may gain a better understanding of what types of discipline work best," researchers wrote.

"Programs implemented at a broad societal level may not only directly help families of children with disabilities, but may also have the indirect, additional benefit of helping members of the community develop a better understanding of the nature of various disabilities. This knowledge in turn may lessen social stigma, known to be associated with parental stress, which may then translate into more positive parenting practices," they concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Child Development

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