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Key findings
  • On average across 39 countries, six in 10 Africans (61%) say parents are justified in using physical force to discipline their children. Approval of corporal punishment has declined modestly over the past five years. o While support for physical discipline approaches nine out of 10 citizens in Benin (88%), Cameroon (87%), Burkina Faso (86%), and Niger (85%), 16 countries record significant decreases since 2016/2018, including sharp drops in Tanzania (-31 points), Kenya (-24 points), Botswana (-22 points), and Liberia (-22 points). o In practice, 43% of Africans say adults in their community “somewhat frequently” or “very frequently" use physical force to discipline children.
  • About one-third (35%) of citizens say child abuse, mistreatment, and neglect are “somewhat frequent” or “very frequent” in their community, while 64% describe these as infrequent occurrences. Perceptions of widespread abuse range from 16% in Tanzania to 63% in Liberia.
  • Close to half (48%) of Africans say out-of-school children are a common problem in their community, ranging from 22% in Mauritius to 83% in Liberia.
  • More than four in 10 citizens (42%) say their household went without enough food to eat “several times,” “many times,” or “always” during the previous year
  • Majorities say services are available in their community to support children who are abused or neglected (58%), children with disability (56%), and children and adults with mental or emotional problems (52%). o These assessments vary widely by country, recording the most positive perceptions in Senegal, Mauritius, Togo, and Mauritania and the least positive in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, Nigeria, and Liberia.
  • On average, only 44% of Africans approve of their government’s performance on protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children. Economically disadvantaged citizens are least likely to see their government’s efforts as adequate.

While Africa is home to the world’s youngest population, many of its 650 million children face daunting barriers to their well-being and future prospects. Poverty, limited access to education and health care, child labour, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, armed conflict, and displacement rank among the continent’s threats to healthy child development, as do various forms of psychological and physical violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, and  neglect (United Nations, 2022; African Partnership to End Violence Against Children, 2021; UNICEF, 2005; Hope, 2005).  

Most African countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and many have recorded advances in the protection of children’s rights and well-being in areas ranging from child survival and school enrolment to efforts to end child marriage and discrimination against girls (African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 2021). 

Yet progress remains uneven, falling well short of the aspirations of the United Nations (2023) Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040 (African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 2016; Fambasayi, 2021; African Child Policy Forum, 2018).

Steps forward are often matched by newly emerging problems, such as armed conflicts that produce humanitarian crises in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. In Sudan, for example, an estimated 19 million children are out of school and more than 7 million people, including an estimated 3.3 million children, have been displaced by the country’s brutal conflict (UNICEF, 2023; New Arab, 2023). 

One long-simmering debate concerns the use of physical force to discipline children, a practice that mounting evidence shows is detrimental to children’s learning, mental health, and development (Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2016). The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2020 notes that 60% of interviewed children said they had experienced at least one form of physical punishment during the previous year, often by close family members and teachers (African Child Policy Forum, 2020). 

This Pan-Africa Profile reports on a special module included in the Round (2021/2023) Afrobarometer questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of corporal punishment, child abuse and neglect, the availability of support services for vulnerable children, and their government’s performance on child welfare.  

Survey findings show that the use of physical force to discipline children still has solid support among African adults, even if opposition is slowly growing.  

Most Africans say child abuse and neglect are uncommon, and more than half – but far from all – report that services are available in their community to support children who are abused or neglected, children with disability, and children and adults with mental or emotional problems. But fewer than half think their government is doing a good job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children. These assessments vary widely by country and respondents’ economic status, suggesting opportunities for interventions to strengthen child welfare. 

Anyway Chingwete

Anyway is the deputy director of surveys

Richard Houessou

Richard is the project manager for Francophone Africa