Orphans living in low- and middle-income countries face a high risk of trauma, with physical and sexual abuse being by far the most prevalent of traumatic events, according to a new study by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The findings also show that orphaned boys in these settings are just as likely to experience abuse as girls. Study authors suggest the development of more support services and prevention programs aimed at protecting vulnerable boys.
For the study, researchers examined self-reported prevalence and incidence of several potentially traumatic event types, including physical and sexual abuse, among 2,235 children. The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Development.
The findings show that physical and sexual abuse affect 12 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys in institution-based care, and 19 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys in family-based care annually. By age 13, approximately half of orphans experience abuse, regardless of gender or setting.
Most international funding programs — such as the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the United Nations task force on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse — often place a special emphasis on protecting girls while failing to to address the need to protect orphaned boys from abuse.
“So much of our funding for children in adversity focuses on girls,” said Kathryn Whetten, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research at the Duke Global Health Institute.
“This study demonstrates the critical need to invest in support services for boys, too — not only for their own protection, but to help prevent them from becoming abusers themselves,” said Whetten, also a professor in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “And this, in turn, helps further protect girls in the long run.”
Previous research has found that exposure to a traumatic event such as abuse often leads to a significant long-term burden, negatively affecting one’s health, quality of life and economic productivity in adulthood. These findings reinforce the need for programs to protect both orphaned girls and boys in these countries, who are particularly susceptible to abuse.
The research was conducted as part of the Positive Outcomes for Orphans longitudinal study led by Whetten, in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania .
The findings are published in the journal Global Mental Health.
Source: Duke University