Study shows growing violence against children with disabilities

Policy makers, local authorities and other members of the community should work with families to improve accessibility and inclusivity of existing programmes and to develop new, wide-ranging support level to fight violence against children with disabilities, a study has recommended. 

It revealed that children with disabilities are subjected to various forms of violence including physical, sexual and emotional while in families or in communities, but are better taken care of at specialised centres.

The findings of the research dubbed: “Violence Against Children and Youth with Disabilities, A Qualitative Study", were released on Tuesday.

The aim of the recommendations is to give children and youth access to services while still in their families and putting an emphasis on daycare services.  

Dr. Yvonne Kayiteshonga the Manager of Mental Health Division in Rwanda Biomedical Centre and Principal Investigator in the research, said that parents need counseling so that they are able to accept their disabled children and properly treat them.

"We should help families to be able to take care of children with disabilities, who have special needs that they are unable to meet. We should give them means to take care of their children, both with or without disabilities," she observed.

In 2016, the country had 56 institutions providing care for children with disabilities. The majority of were private institutions established by faith-based, non-governmental, community and parent-based organizations.

At that time, it was estimated that more than 80 per cent were receiving at least some funding from the government and a similar funding arrangement continues today. 

In 2016, the National Assessment of Centres Caring for Children with Disabilities in Rwanda found that, of the 49 institutions included in the study, five of the most offered services included outreach work in communities, health-related services, physiotherapy, self-care and daily living skills, and support for communication (for example, sign language).


The study found that sexual violence was far more prevalent among girls and young women with disabilities than was physical violence.

While no incidents were reported by boys and young men, 8 of the 20 girls and young women interviewed for this study revealed that they had experienced unwanted sexual harassment (1), unwanted sexual touching (1), unwanted attempted sex (4), and / or rape (1). 

No mention was made of the sexual abuse of boys and young men in the interviews with administrators or in the focus group discussions. 

The study recommended that children and youth with disabilities should be provided with practical, accessible information on sexual health.

They need to have healthy sexual relationships and to be able to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies, abuse and exploitative relationships.

Physical violence

Physical violence was the least common type of violence reported by the children and youth who participated in this research. Of the 39 young respondents, 5 reported having experienced physical violence in their lifetime (2 of 20 girls; 3 of 19 boys).

The physical violence disclosed by children and youth with disabilities was committed by a variety of people, including a peer, a neighbour, a sister, a mother and a father. But, the research said that it is not possible to ascertain from the data if it was the child’s disability that provoked their abusers, or if other factors were at play. 

The study gave an example of a young woman who reported abuse at the hands of her mother also stated that her mother was an alcoholic and that as a child she had been removed from maternal care and placed with her grandmother, where she received loving and attentive care. 

Emotional violence 

The study indicated that emotional violence was by far the most common form of violence described by the children and youth with disabilities.

This violence appeared to take place within families and households and in the community more generally. It took many forms, including willfully ignoring or insulting a child, or treating a child unequally compared to other children in the household. 

Ten (of 20) girls and young women reported having experienced emotional violence at home or in the community. This is against 11 of 19 boys and young men who expressed that they underwent such violence. 

It is difficult to determine the precise numbers of persons with disabilities in Rwanda, according to the study. However it cited the National Census (2012) which estimated that 446,000 of the total population of 10.5 million people live with cognitive, physical and / or sensory disabilities.