Child abuse in Kenya, Zambia and the Netherlands

Catherine Mbagaya examined the frequency and types of child abuse in Kenya, Zambia and the Netherlands. In her research, she also included the relationship between different forms of child abuse and consequent problems in young adulthood. Mbagaya obtained her doctorate on 1 December, 2010.


Catherine Mbagaya

Catherine Mbagaya

A shocking number of children are abused worldwide: they are victims of physical violence, sexual abuse, neglect and lack of supervision. Previous research had already shown that this has consequences for how these children develop in the future. In her research, Mbagaya examines the mechanism that is responsible for this. Three aspects emerge as key in her research:

  • The degree and type of child abuse in Kenya, Zambia and the Netherlands.

  • The relationship between the different forms of child abuse and the consequent psychological problems developing at a later stage, and the differences in this respect between Kenya, Zambia and the Netherlands.

  • Possible deviant behaviour at an adult age as a result of the higher risk of post-traumatic stress due to child abuse.

The research involved 862 students from Kenya, Zambia and the Netherlands.

Child abuse

In her dissertation, Catherine Mbagaya concludes that child abuse occurs significantly more frequently in Kenya and Zambia than in the Netherlands. This might result from factors related to poverty. In addition, the local norms regarding violence and the inferior position of women and children might also play a role. The research also shows that all forms of child abuse lead to symptoms of deviant behaviour in young adulthood. Mbagaya also shows that the effects of neglect are as serious as the effects of physical or sexual abuse. What is remarkable is that neglect leads to fewer cases of post-traumatic stress in Kenya and Zambia than in the Netherlands. Children apparently experience neglect as less traumatic if it results from parents needing all their energy to ensure that there is enough to eat and drink every day.

Rights of the child

All three countries have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In doing so, they committed themselves to guiding, protecting and supporting children, parents and educators in their country. This means that children should be given the chance to grow up in a safe environment. The agreement on the Rights of the Child also specifies that the participating countries must make efforts to spread knowledge and information in order to ban the local customs and rituals which promote child abuse. This and other measures are supposed to lead to identifying child abuse at an earlier stage and to raising awareness of the negative consequences it has, so that in the end, child abuse can be prevented in each of these countries.

Youth welfare and child protection

A comprehensive system of organisations for youth welfare and child protection is required to reduce the negative effects of child abuse. However, there are no valid national figures regarding child abuse in Kenya and Zambia. The governments of these two countries should do their utmost to systematically collect data, and use it to be able to offer adequate help.

Financial support for doctoral research

Catherine Mbagaya’s doctoral research was partially financed by the Lolle Nauta Foundation. She is the third female PhD student from Africa to receive financial support from this Foundation in order to complete her dissertation (her predecessors were Dr Sophie Kasonde-Ng’andu and Dr Beatrice Matawfali from the University of Zambia in Lusaka).

More information on the Lolle Nauta Foundation

Wednesday 1 December
Doctoral Defence Catherine Mbagaya
Supervisors Prof. M.H. van IJzendoorn and Prof. M.J. Bakermans-Kranenburg

(23 November 2010)

Last Modified: 07-01-2011