Background: Child abuse is a recognized public health and social problem worldwide. Using data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) we aimed to (i) compare different forms of child abuse across countries and regions, and (ii) examine factors associated with different forms of child abuse.
Methods: Information on child abuse was available in 28 developing and transitional countries from the third round of the MICS conducted in 2005 and 2006 (n = 124 916 children aged between 2 and 14 years). We determined the prevalence of psychological, and moderate and severe physical abuse for the preceding month and examined correlates of different forms of child abuse with multilevel logistic regression analysis.
Results: A median of 83, 64 and 43% of children in the African region experienced psychological, and moderate and severe physical abuse, respectively. A considerably lower percentage of children in transitional countries experienced these forms of abuse (56, 46 and 9%, respectively). Parental attitudes towards corporal punishment were the strongest variable associated with all forms of child abuse. The risk of all forms of child abuse was also higher for male children, those living with many household members and in poorer families.
Conclusions: Child abuse is a very common phenomenon in many of the countries examined. We found substantial variations in prevalence across countries and regions, with the highest prevalence in African countries. Population-based interventions (e.g. educational programmes) should be undertaken to increase public awareness of this problem. Actions on changing parental attitudes towards corporal punishment of children may help to prevent child abuse. The specific local situation in each country should be considered when selecting intervention strategies.