Handicap International has launched a regional project to prevent sexual violence against children with disabilities in Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenya.
The organization is working to curb an alarming statistic: children with disabilities are three to four times more likely to be affected by physical and sexual violence than children without disabilities.
“The data are very disturbing,” says Sofja Hadjam, Handicap International's Program Coordinator for the region. “For example, 90% of children with intellectual impairments are thought to have suffered some form of sexual abuse.
“Because of deeply-rooted cultural beliefs, most victims are excluded from public life, so they don't receive information on their rights or they're unaware they even have any. Worse still, children with physical and intellectual disabilities are sometimes totally dependent—financially and psychologically—on their aggressors, who are often family members. What's more, the people who commit this abuse are rarely brought before the courts.”
One of the strengths of Handicap International's regional “Ubuntu Care” project, officially launched in Kigali in March, is that children play a vital role in their own protection. “They'll be involved at each stage of the project, from the conception and development of activities to their evaluation. We'll use things children enjoy, like theater, art, and games to get our message across,” says Sofja. “We need to make sure these children are included on existing protection committees in schools or children's clubs. They need to be given a voice.
“Families and communities will also be included in the process to enhance the quality of prevention and intervention activities and to better protect children with disabilities against sexual violence. The data gathered in these three countries during the project will be used as part of regional, national, and international advocacy actions to raise awareness of the violence to which children with disabilities are particularly exposed due to their extreme vulnerability.”