by Jalal Abu Saleh
“Intellectual disability (or ID) is a term used when a person has certain limitations in cognitive functioning and skills, including communication, social, and self-care skills. These limitations can cause a child to develop and learn more slowly or differently than a typically developing child.” According to WHO
Children with disabilities are even more vulnerable and in more need of protection. There are reports of them being sexually assaulted, and deprived of many rights in education, health, work, social protection, and other areas.
Most sexual harassment acts in the case of children with disabilities are carried out by people close to them, with perpetrators exploiting these children’s fear. It is the case of 13-year-old Firas (alias), a child with an intellectual disability that was seen as an “easy target” by a 17-year-old boy who lives in the same neighborhood.
Firas was assaulted multiple times by that boy before Firas’ father found out and filed a report with the police, who discovered that the perpetrator had a record of fights, assault, and theft. In turn, the perpetrator claimed that Firas had sexually assaulted him.
The Legal Aid Department of Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) legally represented Firas and stopped his legal prosecution after a medical committee determined that his mental age was that of a 3-year-old and wasn’t able to commit such crime, in addition to the fact that he was below the criminal accountability age, as such he was exonerated, declaring him incapable of such acts in view of his age. The other child was convicted of repeat sexual assault. This is not an isolated case. Many other children with disabilities are physically and sexually assaulted every day, and that has great psychological implications on them.
According to a report by The Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, people with disabilities are “more in need” to have their rights protected and needs to be fulfilled than the rest of the society. They are at higher risk of marginalization, sexual harassment, exploitation, and physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
International reports show as well that low-income countries have higher rates of disability than high-income countries. Additionally, children with disabilities are four times more likely to fall prey to violence and sexual, physical, and verbal assault.
The Higher Population Council states that the percentage of Jordanians with disabilities amounted to 11.2% of those aged five years and over, and they constitute 11.7% of males and 10.6% of females.
Protecting this vulnerable group is not the responsibility of governments only, but of everyone else. It is vital to mete out strict punishment in such cases, to serve as a deterrent.
There is a great need for a comprehensive protection system for children with disabilities, even more at risk now, during the COVID-19 crisis, to ensure their protection from violence, harassment, and assault, and help efforts to rehabilitate them, keep them healthy and integrate them in the society.
These stories are part of the “Enhancement of the protective environment of Syrian and Jordanian Children” project ” Implemented in partnership with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the project aims to contribute to creating a better protective environment for Syrian and Jordanian children at risk, including children with disabilities living in the most vulnerable communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, through the provision of legal services and cash support.