Disabled children are abused and abandoned in institutions around the world

We know things are bad in orphanages and institutions for disabled young people – but did we know they were as bad as this? A recent investigation by Disability Rights International (DRI) has found horrendous, heartbreaking instances of abuse within institutions created to care for and look after disabled people. 

Such instances include a young boy with autism strapped into a wheelchair, even though he can walk, and the wheelchair is tied to a bed – the child is essentially tied up. Another boy with cerebral palsy lies in his bed banging his teeth on the heavily marked wooden sides - he has a number of teeth missing.  

The Guardian’s Naomi Larsson wrote: “Up to eight million children (pdf) live in orphanages across the world, despite more than 90% having at least one living parent. Disabled children are overwhelmingly represented, and can remain in institutionalised care for life. Harrowingly, young adults raised in institutions are 500 times more likely kill themselves.” She went on to add that “for the last 13 years DRI has been working on a worldwide campaign to shut down orphanages and institutions that, in far too many cases, neglect or even abuse the rights of the children.” 

It is disabled people that are most neglected and abused in institutions all over the world.

Some researchers found children with autism locked in cages in a Paraguayan state-run hospital. When the children were allowed outdoors, they were in a “pen littered with excrement, garbage and broken glass”.

Institutions and orphanages exist because they are lucrative business ventures.

Often, individuals prey on a vulnerable family – a family that is poor and/or has a disabled child that they do not feel they can look after. Many families believe that it is in the interests of the child to go to an orphanage or an institution.  They do it because they care and they want their child to have the most fulfilling life possible; or because they simply cannot afford to keep their child. In an economic situation where survival is a daily challenge for many, a disabled child is a long term liability that many families simply do not have the resources to support.

Governments, philanthropists and other well-intentioned donors (often from more developed parts of the world) flock to give money to ‘the needy’

Many people volunteer, as part of a ‘voluntourism’ programme, at best these are individuals wanting to help. But the only help they can provide is for a few weeks or months when little sustainable progress or impact can realistically be made. Often, the volunteers are incompetent as they have no experience of working with children. At worst, the volunteers are traffickers or paedophiles looking to exploit the situation.

The alternative

DRI believe that an alternative where “development funding is moved to community and family-based care” is the way forward.

This means rather than ploughing money into orphanages and institutions which are often exploitative and damaging to a young person, money should go towards programmes that support families. It seems obvious that the best place for a child to grow and develop is with his or her family.

The current system of institutionalising individuals, rather than supporting families, is a stain on the charity sector and highlights the failures of the development model triumphed by many.

Our approach

Our Parent Support Programme is one such initiative that continues to prove that with a little support, the lives of parents and their children can change drastically.

In a recent trip to The Gambia, one dad told us that he believed his child was a devil until support from Disability Africa staff helped him and family to see the real potential of his child.   As we wrote in a recent article: ‘The lack of understanding around disability prolongs and perpetuates the prejudiced attitudes that exist and these beliefs isolate the families of disabled people, as well as disabled people themselves. Once everyone you trust starts to tell you that there is something demonic about your child, and you have little or no understanding about their impairment, it isn’t hard to imagine how you start to believe them’ 

Larsson is adamant that DRI’s “campaign is a monumental task that requires changing mindsets on a global scale” – at Disability Africa, we are well aware of the difficulties in challenging traditional beliefs but we know that it is the right thing to do.

We are not content with the ‘something is better than nothing’ mindset that some charities favour and we always consider the long-term impact of our work.

You can help change the lives of disabled young people and their family by donating...

It costs just £1.94 for a child to attend our Playscheme for the day - including a hot, nutritious meal. That's less than £10 a week to bring a child out of isolation into a supportive, stimulating and educational environment.

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