Abuse of children happens all around the world but has been on the rise in Africa especially in war-torn countries. The urgency of ending violence against children has not diminished, on the contrary it has just increased due to the impact of the pandemic and multiple crises caused by conflict, climate change and natural disasters. Violence has a huge impact on children’s mental health and they may not reach their full education potential which would limit their future productivity. Studies published by African Partnership to End Violence Against Children (APEVAC) find that more than half of all children in Africa experience physical abuse, while in some parts of the continent four in ten girls suffer from sexual violence before the age of 15. Africa has the highest rates of child neglect in the world with 41.8 percent of girls and 39.1 percent of boys. Dr. Joan Nyanyuki ACPF’s Executive Director said that vigorous action must be taken to tackle the unacceptable scourge of violence against children in Africa because African governments are failing to protect children from violence.
In West and Central Africa, nearly one in three teenage girls have been beaten or hit before the age of 15. One in 10 girls has been raped or sexually abused. Children in these regions are affected by migration since many are currently on the move either unaccompanied or traveling with families this can be hugely disruptive and dangerous. The protection of children has seriously deteriorated since 2021 with at least 249 girls being raped or other forms of sexual violence. There has also been an increase in the use of schools and hospitals by armed rebel groups which has an impact on children’s access to basic service.
Major humanitarian crises continue to unfold across West and Central Africa.The situation in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and multi- country emergencies, including crises in the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin region, are having devastating consequences on children and communities. With a surge in armed conflicts and the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.5 million children in West and Central Africa are in need of humanitarian assistance, a figure that has almost doubled since 2020.
South Africa has a high prevalence of physical, emotional and sexual child abuse, and this abuse is associated with negative long-term and short-term health outcomes. While national policy frameworks and legislation for child protection is rigorous, problems have been identified with the implementation of services. A representative study in South Africa reported lifetime rates of 34 % physical abuse, 16 % emotional abuse and 20 % sexual abuse amongst 15–17 year olds . Although the evidence-base is scattered, studies show that pathways of poverty, caregivers, mental health, distress and HIV/AIDS contribute to harsh parenting and maltreatment. Despite commendable efforts in several countries, African children continue to face multiple threats to their survival and wellbeing.
In Malawi, about 22 percent of women reported having experienced child sexual abuse in one form or another. In Ghana, 39.4 percent of child respondents reported having experienced indecent assault, and 18 percent reported having experienced defilement. The percentage of girls aged 18–24 who had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18 ranged from 15.6 percent in Kenya to 33 percent in Zimbabwe and 35 percent in Uganda.
The 2017 global report on ending violence in childhood showed that in West, Central, East and Southern Africa, more than eight out of ten children aged 1–14 years had experienced violent discipline in the form of psychological aggression or physical punishment at home in the past month. The report also revealed that the use of violent discipline at home was almost universal in Burundi, Ghana, and Mozambique, where more than nine out of ten children experienced a form of corporal punishment at home. Children who are affected by gang and community violence may well be more likely to feel under pressure to leave their homes.
Online forms of violence may be considered new in the sense that they did not exist before the information and communication technology (ICT) or internet era. However, their extent in terms of numbers of child victims, access to the target audience, scale, magnitude, and spontaneity has broadened because of the technology uptake on the continent. In Zambia alone, in 2017, there were 8,000 registered cases of online abuse of children. Evidence suggests that the trend is increasing as children gain greater access to the internet. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of children to spend more time at home as a result of lockdowns and school closures, leaving them exposed to much higher levels of emotional and physical violence, often driven by increased economic stress and domestic discord. Girls have faced more sexual and emotional abuse at home, from their family members. Those children able to access online learning are further exposed to online violence.
Increased and unregulated access to online spaces has exposed children to all forms of online abuse, including online recruitment into child labour, sexual abuse, child trafficking, or child soldiering. Even though curbing violence against children may be a goal that’s hard to reach, some African governments have put in place comprehensive child protection services and by doing so have brought about positive change, particularly for children who are marginalized and left behind. This means that during legal processes, complaints, redress procedures, and policy- making, children can provide feedback and help challenge violations and uphold rights. Helping children build their confidence and self-belief from an early age encourages them to speak out against injustice and corruption and, as adults, to hold politicians accountable.