Disciplinary practices among orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa

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3 Scopus citations


Objectives This study considers whether orphans' experiences with physically and psychologically violent discipline differ from non-orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, and to what extent national, community, household, caretaker, and child characteristics explain those differences. Methods We use cross-sectional Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) administered between 2010-2017 in 14 sub-Saharan African countries. The sample included 125,197 children, of which 2,937 were maternal orphans, 9,113 were paternal orphans, and 1,858 were double orphans. We estimate the difference between orphans and non-orphans experience of harsh discipline using multivariable logistic regressions with country fixed effects and clustered standard errors. Results Findings show that orphaned children experience less harsh discipline in the home. With the exception of double orphans' experience with physically violent discipline, these differences persisted even after controlling for a rich set of child, household, and caretaker characteristics. Conclusions We propose two alternative explanations for our surprising findings and provide a supplementary analysis to help arbitrate between them. The evidence suggests that orphaned children (especially those with a deceased mother) are less likely to experience harsh discipline because of lower caretaker investment in their upbringing. We encourage future research to draw on in-depth interviews or household surveys with discipline data from multiple children in a home to further unpack why orphans tend to experience less harsh punishment than other children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0246578
JournalPloS one
Issue number2 February
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Lee, Boyle. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Adolescent
  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Caregivers/statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Child, Orphaned/statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Punishment

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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