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Orphaned kids face high risk of trauma

Orphaned children in low- and middle-income countries face a high risk of trauma, with physical and sexual abuse being by far the most prevalent traumatic events. New research shows that orphaned boys in these settings are just as likely to experience abuse as girls. As a result, the study authors suggest targeting more support services and prevention programs toward protecting vulnerable boys.

Researchers from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that physical and sexual abuse affects 12% of girls and 14% of boys in institution-based care, and 19% of girls and 20% of boys in family-based care annually. By age 13, approximately half of orphans experience abuse, regardless of gender or setting.

Despite the similarities in abuse instances across gender, international funding mechanisms – such as the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the UN task force on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse – of place a special emphasis on protecting girls while neglecting 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, director of the Centre 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, who is also a professor in Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. "And this, in turn, helps further protect girls in the long run."

Research has shown that experiencing traumatic events such as abuse often leads to a significant long-term burden, adversely affecting one's health, quality of life and economic productivity in adulthood. These potential outcomes 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 in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania led by Whetten.

[link url="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-04/du-oba042415.php"]Duke University material[/link]
[link url="http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FGMH%2FGMH2%2FS2054425115000011a.pdf&code=00d91f9424093f615695a37a3d8fa71f"]Global Mental Health abstract[/link]

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