Skip to content
Key findings
  • ▪ More than two-thirds (68%) of Zambians say parents are “sometimes” or “always” justified in using physical force to discipline their children. o The use of physical discipline receives above-average levels of support from citizens with primary schooling or less (73%). ▪ More than half (54%) of Zambians say the use of physical force to discipline children is not very common in their community, but 45% see it as a frequent occurrence.
  • ▪ A majority (58%) of Zambians say child abuse and neglect occur infrequently in their community, but 40% disagree. ▪ More than six in 10 citizens (63%) say it is common in their community to see school age children who are not in school. o Child abuse/neglect is more commonly perceived as a frequent problem in cities (45%) than in rural areas (35%). In contrast, more rural than urban residents see out-of-school children as a frequent occurrence (66% vs. 60%). Poor citizens are more likely than better-off respondents to see both as frequent problems.
  • ▪ Only 40% of Zambians say children who are victims of abuse or neglect are generally able to find help in their community. Almost half (48%) say support is available for children living with disability. But only 31% say the same for children and adults with mental or emotional problems. o Citizens who are poor are considerably less likely than their better-off counterparts to report that support services for vulnerable children are available in their community.
  • ▪ A majority (61%) of Zambians say the government is doing a good job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children. o Poor and/or less educated citizens are least satisfied with the government’s performance on child welfare.

In 2022, advocates for children’s rights celebrated when Zambia passed its Children’s Code  Act, updating and consolidating the country’s laws in line with international child-rights  standards. Among its many provisions, the act prohibits corporal punishment, child marriage,  and female genital mutilation; requires institutions to implement child-safeguarding  procedures; provides for access to justice and services for victims of abuse and neglect; and  details children’s rights to social protection, health care, education, and parental care  (UNICEF, 2022; End Violence Against Children, 2022; Maponga, 2022). 

The law establishes a legal bulwark against a reality that in Zambia, as in other countries,  includes troubling levels of child abuse and neglect. The 2014 Violence Against Children in  Zambia survey found that among 18- to 24-year-olds, 34% of women and 40% of men had  experienced physical violence as children (Republic of Zambia, 2018). Among 13- to 17-year olds, 28% of girls and the same proportion of boys had suffered physical violence in the  previous 12 months. 

Among the older group, 20% of women and 10% of men had experienced sexual abuse as  children. None of the women had received professional services related to their abuse. 

The Zambia Police Service (2022) reported 5,301 cases of gender-based violence (GBV)  against children in 2021, representing 25.8% of all GBV cases, though many GBV crimes are  known to go unreported. 

Child marriage is also common in Zambia. According to the UNFPA-UNICEF Global  Programme to End Child Marriage (2020), 29% of all Zambian women aged 20–24 were  married before they were 18, and 5% they were 15. 

Against this background, implementation of the new Children’s Code Act will be an  enormous and long-term challenge. How do ordinary Zambians see their country’s progress  in the protection of 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.  

In Zambia, where survey fieldwork was underway when the Children’s Code Act became  law in August 2022, a large majority of citizens consider it acceptable to use physical force to  discipline children, though a slim majority say this practice is not very common in their  community.  

A majority of Zambians also report that child abuse and neglect are infrequent in their  community, though out-of-school children are widely considered a common problem. 

Overall, a majority of Zambians give their government good marks on its efforts to protect  and promote the well-being of vulnerable children. However, fewer than half say that  resources are available in their community to help abused and neglected children, children  with disability, and children and adults with mental or emotional problems.  

Edward Chibwili

Edward Chibwili is the national investigator for Zambia.