Physical and sexual abuse in orphaned compared to non-orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Child Abuse Negl. 2014 Feb;38(2):304-16. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.09.012. Epub 2013 Nov 5.


This systematic review assessed the quantitative literature to determine whether orphans are more likely to experience physical and/or sexual abuse compared to non-orphans in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It also evaluated the quality of evidence and identified research gaps. Our search identified 10 studies, all published after 2005, from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. The studies consisted of a total 17,336 participants (51% female and 58% non-orphans). Of those classified as orphans (n=7,315), 73% were single orphans, and 27% were double orphans. The majority of single orphans were paternal orphans (74%). Quality assessment revealed significant variability in the quality of the studies, although most scored higher for general design than dimensions specific to the domain of orphans and abuse. Combined estimates of data suggested that, compared to non-orphans, orphans are not more likely to experience physical abuse (combined OR=0.96, 95% CI [0.79, 1.16]) or sexual abuse (combined OR=1.25, 95% CI [0.88, 1.78]). These data suggest that orphans are not systematically at higher risk of experiencing physical or sexual abuse compared to non-orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. However, because of inconsistent quality of data and reporting, these findings should be interpreted with caution. Several recommendations are made for improving data quality and reporting consistency on this important issue.

Keywords: Abuse; Orphans; Physical abuse; Sexual abuse; Sub-Saharan Africa; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Orphaned / psychology
  • Child, Orphaned / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Research Design
  • Risk Factors