The media has been flooded over the past few weeks with reports of gender-based violence and particularly the abuse and kidnapping of children. There has been a national outcry and we all agree that no child should ever be exposed to such violence and viciousness. Gone are the days when we could send our children down to the local shop for a few essentials, or allow them to walk to school – simple activities that many of us took for granted when we were growing up.
While every case is tragic, it is a sad fact that children with disabilities have a higher chance of experiencing such abuse as other children. A survey in the United States estimates that children with disabilities face almost twice the risks of abuse. Children with intellectual impairments are at a greater risk of abuse, are abused more often and for longer periods of time; and are more likely to remain in an abusive situation. Furthermore, litigation against the perpetrators is less likely to succeed as the legal system does not recognise the testimony of someone with an intellectual impairment. Family members know this and may therefore be reluctant to report abuse so as to spare their child the trauma of going through legal processes with reduced likelihood of a favourable result.
In addition, the stigma around disability causes children with disabilities in some communities to be hidden away. This means that in cases where children with disabilities experience violence from immediate family members, the community is often unaware and unable to help the child. The nature of the child’s disability may make it impossible for the child to report such abuse to their parent, making it easier for the abuse to continue their behaviour. Consequently, the true statistics around the abuse of children with disabilities are unknown.
The Children Rights Charter states that all children have the right “to be protected from conflict, cruelty, exploitation and neglect”, amongst others. Therina Wentzel-du Toit, National Director of the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities says “Most basic rights that able-bodied children take for granted are being violated for children with disabilities. The right to adequate care, support and protection; the right to quality healthcare services and rehabilitation, the right to a basic education and the right to assistive devices are just some examples.”
So how can we help when we don’t know the true extent of the problem?
My answer? Help the child or children you know. Recognise that children with disabilities are children, and entitled to the same rights and protection as others. Become active in our communities in the protection of our children. Mobilise our families, friends and neighbours to join us.
We need to stand up for our children, to protect them and give them a safe space in which to grow as children. And even more so if the child has a disability.