Arch Dis Child 97:947-951 doi:10.1136/archdischild-2011-301603
  • Original articles

Screening for abuse and mental health problems among illiterate runaway adolescents in an Indian metropolis

  1. Gajendra Singh Meena
  1. Department of Community Medicine, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India
  1. Correspondence to Dr Deepti Pagare Bhat, Department of Pediatric Cardiology, Children's Hospital of Michigan, 3901, Beubien Street, Detroit, MI 48201, USA; drdeeptibhat{at}
  • Accepted 16 July 2012
  • Published Online First 18 August 2012


Objective To evaluate the prevalence of physical and sexual abuse, and their relation to mental health problems among the illiterate/semiliterate runaway adolescents in New Delhi, India.

Design Cross sectional.

Setting New Delhi, India.

Patients Runaway adolescent boys (n=119) aged 11 to 18 years at an observation home.

Methods Study subjects were screened for physical and sexual abuse using the Child Maltreatment History Self Report and Finkelhor's sexual abuse scale. Mental health problems were identified using the Achenbach's Youth Self-Report scale. As the participants were illiterate or semiliterate with Hindi being their primary language, the screening tools were appropriately translated, read out to them and their responses recorded.

Results A total of 72 (62%) boys experienced domestic violence, 70 (59%) had engaged in substance abuse and 103 (87%) boys had been employed as child labourers. Physical abuse was reported by 86 (72%) and sexual abuse by 42 (35%). Mental health problems were recognised in 83 (70%) boys, which included internalising syndromes (59%) and externalising syndromes (34%). Multivariate analysis demonstrated that physical abuse was an independent predictor of internalising syndromes (OR: 3.3; 95% CI 1.2 to 9.1; p<0.01), while substance abuse and sexual abuse were independent predictors of externalising syndromes.

Conclusions Our study demonstrates that childhood abuse and mental health disorders are widely prevalent among the runaway adolescents evaluated at an observation home in New Delhi. Appropriate modification of the standardised self-report screening tools may allow the identification of mental health disorders in this vulnerable illiterate/semiliterate population.