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Key findings
  • A solid majority (60%) of Sierra Leoneans say parents are “sometimes” or “always” justified in using physical force to discipline their children. But opposition to physical discipline has increased, from 33% in 2018 to 40% in 2022.
  • Most Sierra Leoneans say child abuse and neglect (75%) and out-of-school children (60%) are infrequent problems in their community.
  • Only three in 10 Sierra Leoneans say resources are available in their community to help abused and neglected children (29%) and children with disability (27%). Even fewer (19%) say children and adults with mental or emotional problems can get help.
  • A majority (58%) of Sierra Leoneans say the government is doing a good job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children, but 37% disagree.

Children in Sierra Leone grow up facing multiple threats, including violence and abuse. In 2019, a quarter of reported sexual abuse cases involved minors (Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, 2020; Sierra Express Media, 2021). A 2021 study noted that sexual violence and harassment were key barriers to school attendance for girls (UNICEF and Irish Aid, 2021).

A 2019 survey found that about nine in 10 students experienced being beaten in school (Jalloh, 2022). Home environments are also unsafe: According to UNICEF’s 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 86% of children under age 15 experienced “violent discipline,” defined as physical punishment or psychological aggression, at home during the month before the survey (Statistics Sierra Leone, 2018).

Although the 2009 teachers’ code of conduct prohibits corporal punishment in schools, organisations such as End Corporal Punishment point to the existence of legislation that makes punishment of children legal in Sierra Leone. For example, the 1926 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act gives parents and teachers, among others, the right to “administer punishment” to a child. The Child Rights Act (2007) also allows for correction that is “reasonable” and “justifiable” (End Corporal Punishment, 2021). In the home, 47% of mothers and caretakers believe it is acceptable to discipline their children using physical punishment (Statistics Sierra Leone, 2018).

However, things are changing. In recent years, Sierra Leone has instituted several progressive child-related laws and policies. These include a revised sexual offences act increasing penalties for sexual abuse of minors (Martin & Koroma, 2020) and an end to the exclusion of pregnant girls from school (BBC, 2020). In October 2021, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education banned corporal punishment in schools and followed up with an Anti- Corporal Punishment Initiative to provide teachers with alternatives to the cane (Jalloh, 2022).

The prohibition against corporal punishment is one step toward implementing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2004) recommendation that called for banning all forms of corporal punishment at home and in school.

In this evolving context, how do Sierra Leone citizens see efforts to protect and nurture vulnerable children?

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ attitudes and perceptions related to child welfare.

Notwithstanding government efforts to ban corporal punishment, a majority of citizens believe that parents are justified in using physical force to discipline their children, although opposition to corporal punishment is growing and majorities say that it is not a frequent occurrence in their community. Most Sierra Leoneans also say that child abuse and neglect are infrequent problems in their community.

While a majority of Sierra Leoneans think that the government is doing a good job of protecting and promoting the well-being of children, few report that their community has available resources to help abused and neglected children, children with disability, and children and adults with mental or emotional problems.

Fredline M’Cormack-Hale

Fredline M’Cormack-Hale is the co-national investigator for Sierra Leone.

Lucy Emmanette Alieu

Lucy Emmanette Alieu is media and communications officer for the Institute for IGR.