Fast facts on children

Young child survival and development

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Violence, social and gender norms

© UNICEF/TNZA2010-00113/Noorani
A fourteen-year-old girl works in a corn field near her house where she lives with her husband and her mother-in-law in Rebu village, Tanzania.

The situation

The extent of violence against children is impossible to measure since most of it happens in secret. Data compiled by UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre 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.

While no specific data on violence against children in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAR) 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 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.

In ESA, 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. Girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties.

The progress

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.



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