Prevalence of childhood exposure to intimate partner violence and associations with mental distress in Cambodia, Malawi and Nigeria: A cross-sectional study Academic Article uri icon

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  • Background

    Research from high-income countries shows that witnessing intimate partner violence (IPV) between caregivers is experienced by up to a third of all children and is related to poor mental health outcomes. Much less is known about the burden of witnessing IPV in low- and middle-income countries.


    This study seeks to explore the magnitude of witnessing IPV between caregivers, its association with other types of violence and the relationship between witnessing IPV in the past and current mental distress.

    Participants and setting

    Representative data from the Violence against Children Surveys (VACS) from Cambodia (N = 2373), Malawi (N = 2147) and Nigeria (N = 4098) are employed.


    Logistic regression was applied to assess the association between witnessing IPV in childhood and mental distress in adulthood.


    Between 22.4 % and 34.3 % of participants witnessed IPV between their caregivers during childhood. Respondents who witnessed IPV had higher odds of mental distress, compared to those who did not witness IPV in Cambodia (OR 2.73 [2.02, 3.72] for females, OR 2.38 [1.67, 3.41] for males) and Malawi (OR 2.48 [1.43, 4.28] for females, OR 1.66 [1.11, 2.48] for males). In Nigeria only male respondents who witnessed IPV had higher odds of mental distress (OR 2.12 [1.60, 2.80]), but females had no significant association (OR 0.91 [0.68, 1.20]).


    The findings highlight the association of negative mental health consequences faced by children living in households with intimate partner violence for selected low- and middle-income countries. Children's exposure to IPV should be considered when providing support to survivors of IPV. Special considerations should be made to provide culturally and resource-appropriate support.

publication date

  • January 2021