Child Protection


UNICEF in action: Strategy & priorities

Birth registration

Violence, social and gender norms

Justice for children

Child labour and commercial sexual exploitation

Children on the move

Protection and care for children affected by HIV/AIDS

Results for children


Violence, social and gender norms

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2263/Holt
A former excisor who performed female genital mutilation on girls holds the tool she used at a community meeting, Ethiopia.

The extent of violence against children is impossible to measure since most of it happens in secret. Data compiled by the Innocenti Research Center for the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, however, led to an estimate of 500 million to 1.5 billion children experiencing violence annually worldwide.

The 2006 United Nations Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children is regarded as the first comprehensive global study on all forms of violence against children. This landmark effort, which has been supported widely by UNICEF, provides a detailed global picture of the nature, extent and causes of violence against children, and proposed clear recommendations for action to prevent and reduce such violence. The study defines violence as the intentional use of physical force or power that results in injury, death, psychological harm or deprivation. The study’s findings reveal that in every region, in stark contrast to states’ human rights obligations and children’s developmental needs, much violence against children remains legal, state-authorized and socially approved.

While no specific data on violence against children in Eastern and Southern Africa are available, results of surveys on the acceptance of “wife-beating”, for example, indicate that large numbers children are confronted with domestic violence. According to these surveys, 65 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 think that a husband has a right to beat his wife. According to a 2007 study conducted by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF in Swaziland, approximately one in three girls and young women between 13 and 24 years of age experienced some form of sexual violence as a child and nearly one in four experienced physical violence as a child. Boyfriends and husbands were the most frequent perpetrators of sexual violence.

Harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and early marriage are also among the most extreme forms of violence against children. The highest rates of FGM/C are found in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, where more than 70 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have been cut. The practice, normally carried out on girls between the ages of 4 and 14, reinforces the inequality suffered by girls and women.

Child marriage - Percentage of women aged 20-24 who were married by 15 and 18

 Country Child marriage 2000-2010*, married by 15 Child marriage 2000-2010*, married by 18
 Angola  -  -
 Botswana  -  -
 Burundi  3  18
 Comoros  -  -
 Eritrea 20 47
 Ethiopia 24 49
 Kenya 6 26
 Lesotho 2 19
 Madagascar 14 48


 Mozambique 17 52
 Namibia 2 9
 Rwanda 1 13
 Somalia 8 45
 South Africa 1 6
 South Africa - -
 Swaziland 1 5
 Uganda 12 46
 Tanzania (United) 7 37
 Zambia 9 42
 Zimbabwe 4 30
Source: The State of the World's Children 2012, UNICEF

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0214/Cranston
A boy stands in front of the remains of his community church in Eldoret, Kenya. The church was burned during the post-election violence, with many women and children inside.

Child marriage is also a violation of children’s rights and represents the most prevalent form of abuse and exploitation of girls. In Eastern and Southern Africa, 36 percent of women aged 20 to 24 years, or 6.5 million have been married or in union before the age of 18. The problem is particularly prevalent in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Young married girls face onerous domestic burdens, constrained decision-making and reduced life choices, and often fell pregnant much too early. Girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties.

UNICEF in action

In an effort to follow up on some of the key recommendations of the 2006 UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, UNICEF established a partnership with CDC to generate data on violence in Eastern and Southern Africa. To date, Swaziland has completed the research, and the result is sub-Saharan Africa’s first ever population-based survey to measure the magnitude, context and nature of violence against children. Results from the study in Swaziland, and from similar ones conducted in Kenya and Tanzania, confirm that violence against children is highly prevalent and pervasive - in homes, schools and communities. UNICEF also helps to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies across the region to prevent the trafficking of children. In Angola, for example, a pocket-sized training manual was developed for immigration officials. In Kenya, a forum on child trafficking was held for magistrates and prosecutors in border districts.

In order to achieve eradication of FGM/C, UNICEF supports governments to strengthen legislation and enforcement of laws that ban the practice, preferably through community dialogue.

Results for children

Governments and other actors in the region have been giving increased attention to strengthening their legal frameworks and other mechanisms in order to protect children from violence:

  • Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Swaziland, Madagascar, South Africa and Zimbabwe, for example, passed laws to address sexual offenses against children and women, including strengthening law enforcement and prosecution of offenders, while Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia and others – eight in total – are tackling violence against women and children as part of their national development strategies.
  • In several countries, specialized police units were set up to ensure a child- and gender-sensitive response to sexual violence. In Mozambique, UNICEF supported more than 200 Police Victim Support Centres to assist children and women survivors of violence, abuse and exploitation. Ten model centres are now operational. Mozambique also supported the implementation of the National Communication Strategy for the Prevention of Violence.
  • In Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Uganda, UNICEF supports child helplines, where children can report cases of abuse, and seek counselling and psychological support. Children who do not have access to a telephone can attend drop-in centres where counselling services are provided.
  • South Africa has established a hospital-based one-stop service for women and children who have been raped. The Thuthuzela Care Centres seek to lessen the trauma of sexual violence and to reduce secondary victimisation of survivors by providing professional medical care, counselling, and access to legal services, all under one roof.
  • In Rwanda, UNICEF initiated the model ‘one-stop centre’, providing free-of-charge medical, legal, police and psychosocial support to survivors of gender-based violence, and to child survivors of violence.

Several countries in the region are also active in banning FGM/C: Five countries, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda, are working on programmes to strengthen legal norms and social change to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C.

In Kenya, the FGM/C Abandonment Cabinet Policy was approved and a FGM/C Bill drafted; social mobilization that resulted in public declaration on the abandonment of FGM/C was carried out in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

In Somalia, religious leaders continue to be engaged in dialogue on FGM/C, with the aim of developing a ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy on the practice in North-East Zone and North-West Zone.

In partnership with UNFPA, UNICEF Uganda started a programme to accelerate progress towards banning the practice in the country.



 Email this article

unite for children