DFID’s work on disability–inclusive development Contents


165.Safeguarding is an area that cuts across all DFID’s work. There is an inherent power imbalance that comes with disability, which puts PWDs at additional risk of violence and abuse. Motivation wrote to us:

Children and adults with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups in respect of safeguarding their wellbeing. They may have physical, sensory and learning disabilities and difficulties. Children and adults with disabilities with complex needs will often rely on parents and carers to meet most or all of their needs. They may have limited mobility and may find it hard to make their feelings and wishes known because of communication or language difficulties.

Children and adults with disabilities may receive services in different locations which may also leave them vulnerable to ill treatment, neglect and abuse. If they have been harmed or ill-treated they may also find it difficult to know how they can express their concerns about their welfare—they may not even know that the care they are receiving is not safe or appropriate.215

166.The committee received multiple evidence highlighting the specific needs of PWDs within DFID’s safeguarding efforts. Palladium told us:

Development and humanitarian programmes require a nuanced understanding of the specific ways in which persons with disabilities may be vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. Additional efforts are needed to improve this understanding. This includes a better understanding of diverse disabilities and of how to tailor measures to mitigate the risk of abuse. DFID’s plan to build an evidence-base on the needs of persons with disabilities and on their challenges, as laid out in the disability strategy, is highly promising; issues of sexual exploitation and abuse should be specifically covered in this research. DFID can also provide guidance to organisations and programmes on how to carry out needs analysis and how to reduce the risk of abuse based on this analysis.216

167.There are issues pertinent to particular groups. For example, women and girls are often at higher risk of sexual violence, and particular forms of abuse through health systems. Chemonics International told us that:

data shows that these specific social groups experience SEA at higher rates. […] In addition to being at higher risk of SEA, there are environmental, social and institutional barriers, which limit how women and girls with disabilities access community-based protection mechanisms. Lack of access to protection leaves women and girls with disabilities in a vulnerable position, where perpetrators have little risk of being caught or punished, and there is an increased likelihood of repeated abuse and exploitation.217

168.Professor Shakespeare pointed out the specific safeguarding issues with access to sexual and reproductive health:

Involuntary sterilisation remains a pressing issue and a grievous violation. We ought to be thinking of long-term contraception. There is evidence from high-income countries of young women with intellectual disabilities being on long-term contraception and now, from the ECHO trial, we know there are HIV transmission risks for people on injectables. None of that has really been considered from a disability perspective. Whatever the topic is in sexual and reproductive health, taking a disability lens and asking how it affects disabled populations is critical. It should be mainstream.218

169.The ODI pointed out the specific situations of children and adolescents. They advised that:

DFID should also conduct research on the causes and drivers of violence against children with disabilities, how they can be prevented, and how different elements of child protection systems can be made inclusive of and effective for children with disabilities.219

And that:

DFID should ensure that safe spaces and recreational opportunities are accessible to children and adolescents with disabilities and invest in digital technologies and social media-based approaches to reduce their isolation where internet connectivity is accessible and affordable.220

170.Intersecting factors mean that PWDs are at increased risk:

many of the same people often have multiple risks, so people with other disabilities, people who are very poor or people who are in warzones also have higher risk of mental health problems. There is often this overlapping nature of risk where the same people have a cluster of risk together. Therefore, with regard to safeguarding, you know you are going to have people with psychosocial disabilities who also have a number of other risks associated with violence against their body.221

171.Several organisations highlighted neglect and marginalisation as forms of abuse. TLMEW for example pointed out that:

people with leprosy often isolate themselves from society voluntarily due to self-stigma, or are hidden away by their relatives or carers, which puts them at particular risk of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Therefore, DFID’s safeguarding work should acknowledge the existence of these hidden people, as well as address the safeguarding risks that they pose.222

The ODI added:

PWDs are at risk of neglect from birth and throughout their life. Children with disabilities have a 4.6 times higher risk of neglect than those without. Our review found that some are abandoned by their parents: in Ethiopia, they can be left in churches, market places or on the street. They may receive less (or less nutritious) food, inadequate medical care, and less supervision and other support necessary for their wellbeing. […] Adolescents with disabilities who live in institutions are at particularly high risk of violence and neglect.223

172.An important factor in tackling abuse against PWDs is access to reporting mechanisms and protection. Palladium wrote that:

Complaints mechanisms for sexual exploitation and abuse are often inaccessible to persons living with disabilities. Phone hotlines, for example are of little use to the deaf, and counselling centres can be inaccessible for persons who cannot walk or individuals who must travel with a carer. More support is needed to promote initiatives that ensure people living with disabilities are able to access complaints mechanisms and to encourage innovation and knowledge sharing in this space.224

CBM added:

Service providers need to consider accessibility and adaptation of safeguarding measures to address all people with disabilities; and similarly with services for disabled survivors of sexual exploitation, including access to legal support and review services.225

173.PWDs, in common with many aid recipient groups (particularly in fraught humanitarian crises) may also not be aware of what services they could access and what rights they should be enjoying. VSO told us:

The ability of people with disabilities to understand their rights and to report rights violations is also a significant consideration. It is therefore critical that DFID’s partners are supported to consider how these unequal power relations might impact on the ability of people to report on safeguarding issues, and that practical guidance and support is available to help address them- for example through the new Safeguarding resource and support hub being developed by DFID.226

Lack of access to reporting mechanisms, or not reporting for fear of further abuse also affects the evidence and data in this area and the resulting narrative on the scale and shape of the problem. The ODI told us that:

Accurate and comparable data on violence against PWDs remains unavailable as such incidents are rarely reported and aggregated. Although limited, data also indicate that while girls are at higher risk, boys are also vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse. Moreover, PWDs often find it difficult to access protection mechanisms, report abuse, receive support services and seek justice. GAGE survey data confirms that among adolescents with disabilities, 12% were less likely to self-report violence at home - girls 17%. In some contexts, female caregivers are also the targets of emotional violence and abuse by family members who blame mothers for having given birth to a child with a disability.227

174.Lack of coordination on data collection, results in disadvantaging PWDs in DFID’s and other donors’ safeguarding efforts. Chemonics International wrote that:

The way the aid sector is currently structured is not conducive to safeguarding people with disabilities from SEA. This is in part due to the siloed approach to collecting data and designing programming. Data on disability is often collected in separate standalone research efforts, rather than being integrated or mainstreamed into general tracking and programming. Furthermore, programmes that focus on safeguarding do not specifically measure how SEA uniquely impacts people with disabilities.228

175.PWDs, their families, and grassroots DPOs are at the heart of ensuring the safety of PWDs. CBM told us that:

it is critical that DPOs, people with disabilities and those with experience of psychosocial disabilities participate and lead discussions in order to provide expert, impairment specific advice on how to improve safeguarding practice to ensure accessibility, availability and suitability of prevention and response mechanisms.229

176.The ODI added that it is also important to provide “training for police and justice sector personnel on how to support PWDs who have experienced violence to secure justice”.230

177.DFID should invest in staff with its safeguarding unit, who have the capacity, knowledge and expertise to promote the safeguarding, well-being and welfare of people with disabilities particularly children, girls and women (and their families). DFID should ensure it provides adequate resourcing and commitment to monitor and follow-up on cases and referrals, arising from DFID programming. Given recent sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) cases in the aid sector, DFID should consider its specific impact on people with disabilities and work closely with international development actors to put in place sector-wide mechanisms to safeguard people with disabilities, particularly those made vulnerable by especially fragile, conflicted or disempowering environments. DFID should work closely with national governments to strengthen safe access of disabled people to public services, including the justice system.

215 Motivation Charitable Trust (DWD0002), p. 6

216 Palladium (DWD0008), p. 4

217 Chemonics International (DWD0003), p. 4

219 Overseas Development Institute (DWD0025), p. 8

220 Ibid., p. 6

222 The Leprosy Mission England and Wales (DWD0013), P. 2

223 Overseas Development Institute (DWD0025), p. 3

224 Palladium (DWD0008), p. 4

225 CBM UK (DWD0022), p.

226 VSO (DWD0026), p. 4

227 Overseas Development Institute (DWD0025), p. 3

228 Chemonics International (DWD0003), p. 5

229 CBM UK (DWD0022), p. 6

230 Overseas Development Institute (DWD0025), p. 6

Published: 30 July 2019