Hidden Children

Addressing child abuse in the context of disability in Kenya

About the project

This new project emerges from the mCHW project. The ESRC-DFID funded mCHW project set out to train community health workers (who are volunteers selected by their communities to assist their community in health matters) and their supervisors (nurses and public health officers) to assess the development of children under five in two low income communities in Kenya. Since no systematic assessment of the development of the children had been conducted in the two communities prior to the mCHW intervention (due to a considerable shortage of qualified medical personnel in Kenya), a large number of children with disabilities were identified. However, the scope of the mCHW project did not allow for an in-depth follow up with these ‘hidden’ disabled children, hardly any of who are in school or nursery. In Kenyan society, as in most of East Africa, children with disabilities are normally kept ‘hidden’ indoors, away from the public out of fear of stigmatization and the widely held belief that disability is a result of witchcraft.

The new project has two foci: First, to facilitate an innovative and interdisciplinary programme of research at the University of Oxford that addresses the gap in health care education in the context of disability in the developing world. Disabled children and their mothers in low-income areas are among the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in developing countries. Disowned by their families and often divorced by their husbands, in addition to their destitution, they suffer from abuse, physical and structural violence, and a lack of affordable health care and education.

Second, in line with the core aim of the University of Oxford’s Social Science divisional research strategy, to “extend the impact and influence of Oxford’s social sciences research beyond academic communities”, and building on the success of our ESRC-DFID funded mCHW project, the project aims to train community health workers, parents and teachers to identify, understand and assess disabilities, thereby raising awareness in the community and contributing to the de-stigmatisation of disability.

Through the use of mobile technology, the proposed interdisciplinary research will gather data to generate new insights into children’s disabilities and the extent of the treatment gap. Analysis of this data will provide a novel perspective on existing care practices and enhance the understanding of the long-term medical and social needs of those with disabilities and their families. This will inform broader work on how to address the persistent stigmatisation, abuse and structural health care inequalities experienced by those with disabilities.

The project aims to develop strong inter-departmental and inter-divisional research at Oxford, working across Departments and their links in East Africa. This will place the research project in a unique position of generating truly interdisciplinary research by drawing on Oxford’s expertise in global health research, mHealth and education in the developing world.