Child Protection


Birth registration

Violence against children



© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1922/Pirozzi
A girl orphaned by AIDS smiles at herself in a mirror, Swaziland. She receives assistance through a UNICEF-supported programme that helps child-headed households.

Eastern and Southern Africa have made great strides in protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence. Today, more countries have child protection policies in place, and the spending on child protection services have also been on the rise. Efforts to prevent and respond to violations of children’s rights have multiplied and become more effective across the region, and public campaigns have been intensified to put the spotlight on violence against children.

Despite these achievements, however, necessary laws, legal systems and enforcement mechanisms are still lacking throughout the region. Deep rooted cultural beliefs and practices, such as corporal punishment, child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), continue to be prevalent in many places, putting children, especially those from the most marginalized communities, at harm.

Among them, child marriage remains extremely common. About one third of the region’s women aged 20 - 24 were married before their 18th birthday. FGM/C is particularly prevalent in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania. In Somalia, 98 per cent of women have undergone this practice, the highest in the world.

While there are no specific regional data on violence against children, national studies in Kenya, Tanzania Swaziland and Zimbabwe suggest that between 30 and 40 per cent of girls under 18 years of age suffered from sexual abuse and violence in their lives.

As a region, ESA has the highest rate of child labour in the world, together with West and Central Africa. Nearly a third of children aged 5–14 in these two regions are engaged in work.

Despite notable progress in countries like Burundi with the demobilization children formerly associated with the armed forces, children continue to be recruited in countries such as Somalia and South Sudan. The total number of children being used in conflicts is not known, but the UN estimates that thousands of children and young people are affected.

The migration of children because of conflict is an ongoing problem in countries in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, as well as Yemen, Sudan, and in Southern Africa countries, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. There is also a significant movement of children amongst the countries of the Great Lake Region, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan, due to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0817/Isaac
An elderly woman sits beside her sleeping granddaughter in Namibia. The girl's father is a migrant worker who only visits his family three times a year.

UNICEF in Action 

UNICEF’s vision and approach is to create a protective environment, where girls and boys are free from violence and exploitation, where laws and practices minimize their vulnerability and risk factors, and where children themselves are equipped to build their own resilience.

In collaboration with the national legislatures and law enforcement agencies in all 21 countries, UNICEF has identified a series of strategic priorities to accelerate action for the protection of children. These priorities reflect an important shift from issue-oriented projects to a more systemic and integrated approach that addresses both prevention and response to the challenges. These priorities include:

  • Building national child-protection systems; 

  • Strengthening evidence-building and knowledge management; 

  • Addressing cultural values and supporting social change; and

  • Enhancing child protection in conflict and natural disasters.



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