Children with disabilities face acute protection issues in Somaliland. These issues range from lack of education to high incidence of sexual violence. Tying up children with disabilities is common practice throughout the country and in some areas children with disabilities may be denied food.
Despite the critical nature of the situation, little research has been performed on the needs and vulnerabilities of children with disabilities in Somaliland. This survey, conducted by Cesvi and Handicap International with funding from the EC, aims to address part of this gap.
The overall objective of the assessment was to provide a deeper and more comprehensive analysis of (1) the types of child protection issues occurring in Somaliland, and (2) the factors that affect vulnerabilities to protection issues for children with and without disabilities’.
The survey adopted a 2-part methodology:
- Household surveys were administered to collect quantitative information. 767 households were surveyed in Hargeisa, Burao, Berbera, Borama and Erigavo, reaching five of the six regional capitals of Somaliland. Las Aanood was not included in the survey for security reasons. Only urban or peri-urban areas were targeted; rural populations were not included. Households were selected randomly.
- Focus groups were held to collect qualitative information. Three types of focus group discussions were held: (1) discussions with community leaders, (2) discussions with parents and community members, and (3) discussions with children. The discussions with community leaders included traditional leaders, local authorities and religious leaders. Only the most vulnerable children, pre-selected by the community, participated in the children’s focus groups.
The survey generated four categories of conclusions. Broad findings about demographics were accompanied by more specific findings about (1) characteristics of disability, (2) knowledge, attitudes and practices, and (3) sexual violence. Major conclusions are summarized below.
- Geographic differences: Behaviours and attitudes toward children with disabilities vary sharply between regions. Attitudes appear to become more accepting, of what Cesvi and Handicap International consider to be abuse of children with disabilities in locations further away from Hargeisa. Erigavo, in particular, showed concerning behaviours and practices toward children with disabilities. This finding has significant impacts for programming.
Characteristics of Children with disabilities:
- High incidence of impairments: 42% of the survey sample contained at least one member with a disability, indicating a higher-than-expected incidence of disability.
- Socio-economic situation and impairment: Socio-economic status and parenting skills may be associated with higher rates of impairments. A correlation between low education and incidence of impairment was noted, as was a correlation between lower socio-economic status and impairment.
- Knowledge, Attitudes and Practice toward Children with Disabilities
- School attendance: 45% of children with disabilities attend school, compared to 60% of the urban population. The barriers to education for children with disabilities are much more serious outside of Hargeisa due to a lack of resources, a lack of services and access issues.
- Parental Practices: 40% of the sample supported tying up children with disabilities; focus group participants said that this practice aimed to protect rather than abuse children. In some regions, up to 28% of parents believe that children with disabilities need less food than children without disabilities.
- Community Attitudes: Throughout Somaliland, attitudes toward children with disabilities are disquieting when related to international standards and best practice. In some towns, 80% of respondents believe that children with disabilities should not play with other children. 50% of households support the statement that children with disabilities cannot contribute to a household.
- Prevalence of Discrimination: The prevalence of discrimination against children with disabilities appears to be high throughout Somaliland. According to the analysis of our household survey we can approximate that around 34% hold discriminatory views. Discrimination towards children with disabilities in Somaliland can be severe and damaging: the types of discrimination mentioned in focus groups included stoning, insulting, and turning children into public spectacles.
- Children with disabilities: Children with disabilities are highly vulnerable to sexual violence, according to 75% of respondents to the household survey. There appear to be no special measures in place to protect disabled children from sexual violence.
- Sexual Violence Against Boys: A high proportion of respondents to the household survey (43%) agreed that sexual violence against boys is possible. Given the cultural barriers to boys disclosing sexual violence and the additional cultural and practical barriers which exist for children with disabilities to disclose sexual violence; our team hypothesize that boy children with disabilities may be extremely vulnerable to prolonged, repeated sexual violence. This is obviously an area which needs further investigation and care of boy child survivors of sexual violence is a clear gap in programming in Somaliland.
- Severe Repercussions for Survivors: Girls who have been raped face discrimination and sexual harassment. It is common for rape survivors to leave their communities as a result of discrimination and ostracization.
- Weak Police System; Strong Traditional System: According to the Social Institutions and Gender Index the police system across Somalia lacks skills, finances and tools to respond to sexual violence appropriately. Sexual violence, according to focus group respondents, is often treated as a civil dispute and settled through financial reparation to the survivor’s family or through forced marriage. Partially as a corollary of this, and partially due to cultural norms, elders and customary leaders take the lead in making decisions about the future of survivors and perpetrators.