Violence and abuse against children with disabilities

It has long been known that children with disabilities are subject more frequently to violence from peers, violence in the home, sexual abuse, forced sterilisation, forced abortion and violence when receiving treatment. Despite criticism from the UN, Sweden lacks a comprehensive picture of the situation for these children. Two LiU researchers have surveyed our knowledge in this area, under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and the Children’s Welfare Foundation Sweden. 
Barn sitter i trappa“Children with disabilities have the same rights as other children, but it seems that these rights are not followed. Our report demonstrates what may be a first step towards improving the situation,” says Carl Göran Svedin of the knowledge centre Barnafrid at Linköping University. He is one of the researchers who have surveyed the Swedish research published around children with disabilities and the extent to which these children are subject to violence and abuse.

Sweden’s deficient knowledge about children with disabilities and the violence and abuse that these children are exposed to has been criticised. Both the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN committee established by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have requested information and statistics about violence against children with disabilities. Against this background, a survey of knowledge of the total exposure to violence and abuse has been collected.

Mistreatment in the home

One of the conclusions of the report is that children with chronic disease or disabilities are subjected to bullying twice as often as children without such conditions. The studies also show that physical mistreatment occurs principally in the home, while bullying occurs at school or online. Of 20-year-olds with disabilities, 15% stated that they had been beaten, bitten or kicked by their parents while growing up.

“Attention must be drawn to the increased stress experienced by parents of children with disabilities, and to the taboo that appears to arise between professionals and parents when talking about this stress,” says Carl Göran Svedin.  

The report’s authors conclude that information and further education are required within most areas in which adults meet these children. This is true not only for parents and relatives but also for professionals in schools, the medical and social care systems, and the legal professions. More knowledge must be introduced also into the undergraduate education given by institutions of higher education.

The authors present several proposals that may lead to improvement:

- Strategies and preventative measures that deal with violence and abuse against children must include a disability-based perspective.

- The education in sex and inter-personal relationships given by schools for children with disabilities should be modernised such that it contains a balance of relationship skills, the affirmation of sexuality and knowledge about risks and violence.

- Knowledge about violence should be compulsory in undergraduate education intended for people who will subsequently work with children.

Carl Göran Svedin is professor at Linköping University and head of the Barnafrid knowledge centre. The other authors of the report are Linda Jonsson, senior lecturer at Linköping University and Barnafrid, and Åsa Landberg, child psychologist at the Children's Welfare Foundation Sweden.


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