Overview | Aperçu

Children in West and Central Africa

UNICEF in the region

Polio immunization | Vaccination contre la polio

Maternal and Newborn Health


HIV/AIDS in the region


Water and Sanitation

Child Protection



Violence against children

Violence against children takes many different forms in West and Central Africa. Child marriage and other forms of violence based on cultural beliefs and gender norms are widespread. Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) persists in many Sahelian countries, although there is now a growing movement towards FGM/C abandonment. Physical violence and sexual abuse are common in schools, in institutions, at home and in work settings.

Violence in schools often leads to school drop-out. Rates of gender-based violence are particularly alarming in conflict and post-conflict areas, where impunity is almost complete. Some children are discriminated against or rejected by their communities, for example children accused of witchcraft, children with disabilities, and children affected by HIV and AIDS. Certain forms of violence are having lasting negative health effects (e.g. fistula and obstetric problems from FGM/C, child marriage, sexual violence; STIs and HIV from sexual violence), and all forms of violence are having psychological effects, often with social and economic repercussions.

Violence against children and women is widely accepted as a form of discipline and as a form of resolving conflicts. Sexual abuse and other forms of violence against children are considered as internal family matters, which are mostly dealt with by the family or community without recourse to social or judicial services. The aim is generally to maintain community harmony rather than to protect children and to ensure justice. Violence prevention and response mechanisms are of limited reach and impact and often do not meet necessary standards of quality. Efforts often consist of partial interventions, such as child helplines, medical response, policing and law enforcement, which are not coordinated with each other.

A large number of anti-violence initiatives are being supported by agencies working for children’s and women’s rights. They include initiatives on corporal punishment, GBV, violence against women, sexual violence against girls, and violence against children in schools. A wide range of approaches have been used to make violence visible, to promote violence prevention and social and behaviour change, including: parenting education, school-based anti-violence programmes, media campaigns, and community dialogue and mobilisation. Together with partner agencies, UNICEF is working in the region to strengthen systems and promote social change to prevent and protect children from violence.

How is significant impact achieved?

  • Decrease societal acceptance of domestic violence
  • Increased access for victims of sexual violence to justice and support mechanisms
  • Carry out in-depth research on the causes and incidence of violence for improved policy and programming purposes (e.g. CDC quantitative research on sexual violence; social norm research)
  • Reduce the incidence of violence in schools (through prevention): codes of conduct for teachers/students; awareness, identification and reporting mechanisms and procedures, life skills.....
  • Reduce the incidence of GBV in conflict (response and prevention) by....
  • Strengthen the role of health, education and communication sectors in violence prevention
  • Strengthen violence response mechanisms and justice for children (make this more concrete)



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