Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 21 November-December 2003

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Disabled Children in Nepal

The following is an excerpt from Gerison Lansdown's report "Disabled Children in Nepal" which was produced on behalf of Rights for Disabled Children by Disability Awareness in Action.

Political and Social Context
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is also one of the most mountainous. To these problems add the [Maoist] insurgency, the fact that most of its people are subsistence farmers, that the majority of the population have not had any formal education and that the predominant Hindu culture promotes a view of disability as a punishment for sins in a past life, and it becomes clear that life for disabled children is going to be particularly harsh. In a country where children are needed as economic assets within the family, and where it is assumed that a disabled child is incapable of making such a contribution, that child will inevitably suffer from low status, rejection and marginalization.

The right to protection from all forms of violence
Current legal protections

The right of children to protection from all forms of violence, embodied in Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has not been given priority by the Nepali government. To date, no legal protections have been introduced to prohibit physical punishment in the home, in schools or in the penal system [1]. Furthermore, there are no explicit responsibilities within government for addressing child protection issues. Whilst the Children's Act prohibits neglect and abuse of children, section 7 of the Act allows parents, members of the family and teachers to beat a child "if it is thought to be in the interest of the child". The Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed deep concern at this provision following its examination of the Nepalese government's initial report in 1996 [2]. It also expressed concern that appropriate measures have not been taken to effectively prevent and combat any form of ill-treatment and corporal punishment of children within the family and at the absence of adequate legislation and mechanisms for rehabilitation of child victims. In its recommendations to the government, it suggested the introduction of a range of measures including legislation to combat ill-treatment and sexual abuse of children, including within the family. It also suggested that a study be undertaken to improve the understanding of the nature and scope of the problem and that social programmes be established to prevent all types of child abuse and neglect.

To date, none of the Committee's recommendations have been acted on. In consequence, there is still little available data or research evidence relating to the extent and nature of violence perpetrated against children, including disabled children. And although some NGOs have conducted awareness raising programmes to highlight the right of children to protection from violence, few rehabilitation programmes have yet been introduced. Violence, particularly sexual violence, is not discussed in Nepali culture. The issue, therefore, remains largely hidden from view, denied and ignored.

The experience of children
Although no hard data exists about children's experience of violence, there is considerable anecdotal evidence. For example, recent work by Save the Children indicates that a very significant proportion of the children who run away from home and on to the streets are escaping violence and brutality at home. And there is concern amongst many of those organisations working with disabled children that the scale and severity of violence is considerable. During the course of this study, the issue of violence against disabled children was raised repeatedly by NGOs and others working with children. The examples given included:

  • Deaf children being beaten for signing
  • Many blind children being abused within their families
  • Parents beating children who exhibit signs of mental illness, interpreting the behaviour as disobedience and wilfulness
  • Significant abuse of children with learning disabilities
  • Disabled children being rejected emotionally in families and abused because of their low status
  • Disabled children being hidden away in the family home, treated like animals, sometimes even locked in cages, particularly in rural areas
  • Concerns over the widespread existence of sexual violence within families which is denied or covered up because families are not willing to expose the problem
  • Examples of girls with learning disabilities being put on depo provera in order that they can be abused with relative impunity
  • Difficulties for children in challenging abuse by teachers because of their high status in society
  • Problems of abuse by older disabled men.
Children themselves repeatedly stressed the physical abuse they experienced both within the family and in their communities. They also described the extent of emotional abuse - verbal aggression, hostility, humiliation and emotional rejection. They talked of the loneliness of their lives because they were not loved in the way that non-disabled children were loved. And when abuse does occur, there is nowhere for children to seek help. The general tolerance of relatively high levels of violence against children, coupled with the extent of discrimination against disabled children, means that they are very unlikely to gain sympathy or protection from the wider community.

Ending violence altogether will necessitate a comprehensive strategy spearheaded by the government to challenge the current widespread presumption that it is legitimate, or even desirable to hit children. Whilst these attitudes prevail, it is inevitable that disabled children, often the most vulnerable within any community, will continue to be exposed to violence, with no means of redress and the perpetrators immune from punishment.

Contact Disability Awareness in Action for a full copy of the report. DAA, 11 Belgrave Road, London, England SW1V 1RB.

[1] information from the website: www.endcorporalpunishment.org.
[2] Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child : Nepal, CRC/C/15/Add.57, June 1996.

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