The horrific story of institutions


In UNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children: Children with Disabilities report, there is an article written by the founder of Disability Rights International (DRI), Eric Rosenthal, JD, and the president of DRI, Laurie Ahern, about the story of institutions worldwide *(p. 46/47).  After over 20 years of investigations in over two dozen countries’ institutions they have discovered numerous common realities.  Millions of children with disabilities are separated from their families and placed in institutions and other forms of care. From these, most face a lifetime in similar facilities for adults once they reach 18.

In many cases, these children end up in institutions because their parents are discouraged to keep them by doctors and medical professionals.  They are told their child has little to no potential for development.  Many parents feel there is no alternative as there is often inadequate financial support from government to raise them and find appropriate therapy and education.

Institutions are a dangerous and severely detrimental place for these children.  The effects of institutionalization based on DRI research include: greater risks to life and health, psychological damage, emaciation due to lack of adequate nutrition, being left to languish by being kept in their crib with no stimulation for year after year, muscles and limbs becoming atrophied with some needing to be amputated, lack of emotional attention leading to self abusive behavior and rocking back and forth, restraints, isolation, and electric shocks used as methods of punishment.

In some institutions they found there is an incorrect belief that these children do not experience pain.  Medical procedures in some cases then are conducted without anesthesia and some institutions turn off the heat at night believing they do not suffer cold.

Human rights monitoring and enforcement programs to protect these childrens’ rights are not present in most cases.

Human Rights Watch wrote a report in 2014 entitled Abandoned by the State which states that research by UNICEF and others have shown that “institutionalization has serious consequences for children’s physical, cognitive, and emotional development, and that violence children may experience in institutions can lead to severe developmental delays, various disabilities, irreversible psychological harm, and increased rates of suicide and criminal activity” **(p. 5, 2014).

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, September 1990 states ***(Article 23):

Article 23

1. States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.

3. Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development

Although The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by 194 countries, meaning these governments have agreed to honour it, investigations from many organizations such as Disability Rights International, clearly show otherwise.



*UNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children: Children with Disabilities report:

**Human Rights Watch, Abandoned by the State:

***Convention on the Rights of the Child:




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