Childhood disability increases violence risk

By Ingrid Grasmo

Children with disabilities are significantly more likely to be victims of violence than those who are not disabled, suggest findings from a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies.

"The impact of a child's disability on their quality of life is very much dependent on the way others individuals treat them. This research establishes that the risk of violence to children with disabilities is routinely three to four times higher than that of non-disabled children," said lead study author Mark Bellis (Liverpool John Moores University, UK) in a press statement.

Bellis and team identified 17 studies with estimates of prevalence of violence against individuals aged 18 years or younger with disabilities relative to children without disabilities.

Prevalence rates of violence against children with disabilities were reported in 16 studies, including a total of 14,721 individuals. Pooled prevalence estimates were 26.7% for combined violence measures, 20.4% for physical violence, 18.1% for emotional abuse, 13.7% for sexual violence, and 9.5% for neglect.

When the team assessed the prevalence of violence in children with mental or intellectual disabilities, they found a pooled prevalence of 26.8% for physical violence, 26.7% for emotional abuse, 21.2% for any violence, 14.5% for sexual violence, and 7.8% for neglect.

Estimates for violence risk were then calculated from 11 studies including a total of 13,505 children with disabilities, who were found to have a 3.68, 3.56, and 2.88-fold increased risk for any type of violence, physical violence, and sexual violence, respectively, compared with nondisabled children.

Despite this review being the first to provide pooled estimates of the prevalence and risk for violence perpetrated against children with disabilities, the researchers caution that high levels of heterogeneity were observed throughout the studies, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions.

"These gaps need to be addressed through high-quality epidemiological research that focuses on all disability types, uses currently available standardized measures of disability and violence, focuses on low-income and middle-income countries, and includes accurate assessment of whether disabilities were present before exposure to violence, or were a direct result of violence," write the researchers in The Lancet.

In an associated press release, Etienne Krug (World Health Organization) said: "The results of this review prove that children with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to violence… we know that specific strategies exist to prevent violence and mitigate its consequences and we need to determine if these also work for children with disabilities."

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