Disabled children in developing countries are more likely to receive severe treatment such as being hit by a belt or stick, or a blow to the head, says a new study by Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy. The findings appear in the July 30, 2013, issue of “Child Development.”
There are at least 93 million children with disabilities worldwide, with 80 percent living in poorer countries. Researchers led by Jennifer Lansford, a research professor with the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy, interviewed 45,964 caregivers of disabled children aged 2 to 9 in low to middle income nations. The children had cognitive, language, motor, or sensory (vision or hearing loss) disabilities.
The 17 countries studied were: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Georgia, Ghana, Iraq, Laos, Macedonia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Yemen, Belize, Jamaica, Montenegro, and Cameroon.
- Disabilities are stigmatized in many nations
- Some children are venerated in cultures such as Nepal and India, where children with intellectual disabilities are thought to have divine qualities
- There is an extensive variety of beliefs about which types of discipline is appropriate
- The harsh punishment used by parents or primary caregivers formed a consistent pattern, except for Georgia, where harsh treatment was less prevalent
- Children with motor disabilities such as problems walking were treated the worst and were most likely to experience emotional abuse or physical violence
- The test results were unclear as to whether the children were treated harshly because of their disability, or the children became disabled as a result of brutal discipline
Past studies have shown that parents of disabled children have high stress levels, in part from trying to manage the disabilities.
“I was disheartened by the results, but not surprised,” Lansford said. More research into parental attitudes could help clarify why children are receiving harsh treatment and how to change that, she added.
“Parents may believe that children with disabilities won’t respond to less harsh forms of discipline,” Lansford said. “Or they may be frustrated, and may not know what else to do. If that’s the case, then community-level interventions could make a difference in changing community perceptions of disabilities.”
Marc H. Bornstein of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of the report’s authors, feels that the problem is more widespread than suggested by the study.
“Our study shows that disabled children often encounter a kind of double jeopardy,” Bornstein said. “In addition to their disabilities, they are at greater risk for harsh treatment from their caregivers. Community education could make a difference. Informing parents about child disabilities may give them a better understanding of what types of interactions are most appropriate, constructive and effective for already disadvantaged youngsters.”