Gender (in) differences in prevalence and incidence of traumatic experiences among orphaned and separated children living in five low- and middle-income countries

Glob Ment Health (Camb). 2015 Jan;2:e3. doi: 10.1017/gmh.2015.1.


Background: Approximately 153 million children worldwide are orphaned and vulnerable to potentially traumatic events (PTEs). Gender differences in PTEs in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) are not well-understood, although support services and prevention programs often primarily involve girls.

Methods: The Positive Outcomes for Orphans study used a two-stage, cluster-randomized sampling design to identify 2837 orphaned and separated children (OSC) in five LMIC in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. We examined self-reported prevalence and incidence of several PTE types, including physical and sexual abuse, among 2235 children who were ≥10 years at baseline or follow-up, with a focus on gender comparisons.

Results: Lifetime prevalence by age 13 of any PTE other than loss of a parent was similar in both boys [91.7% (95% confidence interval (CI) (85.0-95.5)] and girls [90.3% CI (84.2-94.1)] in institutional-based care, and boys [92.0% (CI 89.0-94.2)] and girls [92.9% CI (89.8-95.1)] in family-based care; annual incidence was similarly comparable between institution dwelling boys [23.6% CI (19.1, -29.3)] and girls [23.6% CI (18.6, -30.0)], as well as between family-dwelling boys [30.7% CI (28.0, -33.6)] and girls [29.3% CI (26.8,-32.0)]. Physical and sexual abuse had the highest overall annual incidence of any trauma type for institution-based OSC [12.9% CI (9.6-17.4)] and family-based OSC [19.4% CI (14.5-26.1)], although estimates in each setting were no different between genders.

Conclusion: Prevalence and annual incidence of PTEs were high among OSC in general, but gender-specific estimates were comparable. Although support services and prevention programs are essential for female OSC, programs for male OSC are equally important.

Keywords: gender; incidence; low- and middle-income countries (LMIC); orphans; potentially traumatic events; prevalence.