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Key findings
  • Two-thirds (66%) of Gambians say parents are “sometimes” or “always” justified in using physical force to discipline their children. Opposition to corporal punishment has increased by 12 percentage points since 2018, to 34%. o A strong majority (65%) say the use of physical force to discipline children is not very common in their community.
  • Most Gambians say child abuse and neglect (79%) and out-of-school children (61%) are infrequent problems in their community. o Child abuse/neglect and out-of-school children are more widely seen as common problems in cities than in rural areas.
  • Roughly half of Gambians say resources are available in their community to help abused and neglected children (54%), children with disabilities (47%), and children and adults with mental or emotional problems (45%). o Rural residents are more likely than urbanites to report that such support services are available in their community.
  • Six in 10 Gambians (60%) say the government is doing a poor job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children.

In developing countries, an estimated 250 million children under age 5 are at risk of not  reaching their development potential due to adverse experiences in early life (Black et al., 2017). More than 80 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, which corresponds to two-thirds of all children in the age group in the region (Blimpo, Carneiro, Jervis, & Pugatch, 2022). The World Bank (2020) estimates that because of limited education, health care, and  social safety net services, children in the Gambia achieve only 40% of their full productivity  potential. 

The Gambia has a diverse legal and policy arsenal to protect and promote the welfare of its children – and faces an equally varied set of threats to child well-being and development,  ranging from poverty and violence to sexual abuse and child marriage. Analyses by UNICEF  (2022) estimate that nine out of 10 Gambian children are poor and deprived of sanitation,  nutrition, and/or education, and that 89% of children experience violence such as sexual  abuse, bullying, and physical punishment or psychological aggression by caregivers. A 2018  Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey found that 50.6% of girls under age 15 had undergone  female genital mutilation, and 34.2% of women aged 20-49 had married before age 18 (UNICEF, 2019).  

The United Nations (2019) has called on the Gambian government to increase prosecutions  for child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation in order to break the “culture of  silence” that allows these to continue at alarming rates. 

Complementing the Gambia’s Children’s Act 2005, Trafficking in Persons Act 2011, Domestic  Violence Act 2013, and Sexual Violence Act 2013, the African Child Policy Forum (2020) cites a number of recent advances in child protection, including the Women’s Amendment Act  2015 (addressing sexual violence and female genital mutilation), a minimum marriage age of  18, and the country’s first National Social Protection Policy (2015–2025). But it also notes  severe challenges when it comes to implementing or enforcing these laws and policies. 

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9  questionnaire to explore Africans’ attitudes and perceptions related to child well-being. 

Findings show that a majority of Gambians endorse parents’ use of physical force to  discipline their children, though opposition to the practice has increased since 2018. 

Most Gambians say that child abuse and neglect and out-of-school children are infrequent  problems in their community. But only about half report that support services for vulnerable  children are available in their community, and a majority think their government is doing an  inadequate job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children.

Wallelign S. Hassen

Wallelign S. Hassen is a researcher at the University of Florida.<br />