Objective: This article reviews the English-language literature on child sexual abuse in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The focus is on the sexual abuse of children in the home/community, as opposed to the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Methods: English language, peer-reviewed papers cited in the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) are examined. Reports from international and local NGOs and UN agencies are also examined.
Results: Few published studies on the sexual abuse of children have been conducted in the region, with the exception of South Africa. Samples are predominantly clinical or University based. A number of studies report that approximately 5% of the sample reported penetrative sexual abuse during their childhood. No national survey of the general population has been conducted. The most frequent explanations for the sexual abuse of children in SSA include rapid social change, AIDS/HIV avoidance strategies and the patriarchal nature of society. Child sexual abuse is most frequently perpetrated by family members, relatives, neighbors or others known to the child.
Conclusions: There is nothing to support the widely held view that child sexual abuse is very rare in SSA-prevalence levels are comparable with studies reported from other regions. The high prevalence levels of AIDS/HIV in the region expose sexually abused children to high risks of infection. It is estimated that, approximately.6-1.8% of all children in high HIV-incidence countries in Southern Africa will experience penetrative sexual abuse by an AIDS/HIV infected perpetrator before 18 years of age.