IDDC and its members aim to promote inclusive development, which means ensuring that all people are fully included and can actively participate in development processes and activities. One area which the consortium has highlighted as an area which should be made more inclusive is the development of safeguarding policies and practices.
Studies by the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and others show that Children and Adults with Disabilities face a higher risk of all types of abuse, neglect and harm, when compared with their peers without disabilities. What is more, women with disabilities are 10 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than their non-disabled peers. A report published by the WHO (2012), indicated that Children with Disabilities “are 3.7 times more likely to be victims of violence than children without disabilities.” The same study (WHO, 2012) also showed that children with disabilities are 2.9 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence, so face an increased risk when compared to their peers.
Not only do studies show that children and adults with disabilities face higher risks of abuse, they are also less likely to disclose their abuse; and this is across a range of disabilities (Hershkowitz et al, 2007a; Sullivan and Knutson, 2000). Reasons for this lower level of disclosure include: reduced opportunity to report; limited education on their rights and definitions of abuse; unmet or lack of understanding around their communication needs. Parents, educators and caregivers may choose not to educate children or young adults with disabilities about sexuality and personal safety strategies in order to “protect” them, this means that individuals may not have the vocabulary to describe abuse or feel empowered to say no when someone does try to exploit or abuse them. They are also more likely than others to exhibit nonverbal behaviours as signs of adverse experience, particularly where they are unable to communicate verbally with others. It is important that these behaviours are recognised as communicative and interpreted as far as possible, and not simply attributed to the child’s impairment (Taylor et al, 2015).
As part of DFID’s commitment to the global goals on sustainable development, to leave no one behind (2019), they have committed to prioritise the interests of the world’s most vulnerable. This includes listening and responding to the voices of those left furthest behind, such as people with disabilities (both adults and children). The international community is becoming increasingly aware of the risks posed to people with disabilities when compared to their peers without disabilities and this is reflected in the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), and the development of national policies to safeguard people with disabilities from discrimination.
For decades, the international development, aid and humanitarian sectors have developed and implemented various high-quality standards of safeguarding in order to protect beneficiaries from violence and abuse, including Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH). These sector-based efforts have been driven by several international instruments, most notably the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1987 (UNCRC). These have been bolstered by guidance such as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) principles on preventing and responding to SEAH, Keeping Children Safe (KCS) International’s Child Safeguarding Standards (both established following the 2001 ‘West Africa Scandal’), Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS), Child Protection Working Group (CPWG) Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action and InterAction NGO Standards; to name but a few. Despite significant work in this area, to date these standards, fail to address or clarify the specific challenges and approaches required to fully protect children, youth or adults with disabilities.
Given the increased risk faced by persons with disabilities we believe it is our organisational duty to ensure that safeguarding policies be created in consultation with people with disabilities, in order to reflect their experiences, provide inclusive mechanisms for disclosure and mitigate any previously unidentified risks. At IDDC we commit to leave no one behind, which is why we believe safeguarding policies and processes should be made both inclusive and accessible.
Recent revelations in 2018 concerning both the systemic and historical abuse of beneficiaries across development, aid and humanitarian organisations, including of children, has once more galvanised the sector to assess failings and the urgent improvements required to effectively implement best practice safeguarding standards. The 2018 London Safeguarding Summit” has acted as an initial platform through which global commitments have been made across major international donors and by NGOs to collectively improve safeguarding standards. As our sector has a renewed focus on safeguarding, disability focused organisations and DPO’s have an obligation to ensure reformed standards and practices for effective safeguarding are fully disability inclusive.
At the same time, current trends in our sector have seen an increased focus and investment in disability inclusion across mainstream humanitarian and development organisations. As a result, and for the first time, there is a global commitment to achieving inclusion, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), DFID Disability Framework (more recently, DFID Disability Strategy) and through the Global Disability Summit held in the UK in 2018. As disability mainstreaming becomes more commonplace across development programmatic delivery it is likely these groups will be increasingly exposed to risk by our programmes and those that run them and therefore a pressing need for robust safeguarding practices that protect and include children, youth and adults with disabilities for practitioners across the sector.
Read the full report